Nike campaign tests ‘all publicity is good publicity’ adage

Discussion
Source: Nike
Sep 05, 2018
George Anderson

Nike has courted controversy with its latest “Just Do It” campaign, which includes an ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, who gained notoriety in 2016 when he refused to stand for the National Anthem in protest of the mistreatment of minorities in the U.S.

The new ad features a tight black and white shot of Mr. Kaepernick’s face with copy that reads: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The former quarterback has not found a job in the league since declaring for free agency in March 2017. Mr. Kaepernick has filed a legal complaint against the NFL alleging collusion among teams to keep him out of the league.

The NFL did not comment on the pending legal matter or the Nike campaign, but did issue a statement from Jocelyn Moore, the league’s executive vice president of communications and public affairs.

“The National Football League believes in dialogue, understanding and unity. We embrace the role and responsibility of everyone involved with this game to promote meaningful, positive change in our communities,” said Ms. Moore. “The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action.”

As word of Mr. Kaepernick’s inclusion in the new campaign got out, protests spread across social media with some calling for a boycott of the Nike brand. Others rose to the brand’s and Mr. Kaepernick’s defense. Whether consumers were for or against Nike, it’s clear that Mr. Kaepernick’s inclusion has led to increased media exposure — roughly $43 million worth, according to Apex Marketig Group. Nike’s stock was down 3.2 percent in trading yesterday.

Those who oppose players kneeling during the National Anthem have pointed to declining television ratings the past couple of years as indication that the peaceful protests are behind decreases in revenues for the NFL. Reporting by The Atlantic and others, however, show the declines are part of a longer downward trend that can be tied to a number of factors, including consumer cord-cutting, non-competitive games and the nation’s dysfunctional political environment that often plays more like a reality TV show than news. In the end, the NFL and its franchise owners continue to do quite well financially, with the average franchise valued at $2.5 billion, according to Forbes.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will Nike sales be hurt or helped as a result of including Colin Kaepernick in the brand’s new “Just Do It” campaign?

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Braintrust
"Nike's campaign touches on one of the most important things about marketing -- emotions, and locks in attention regardless of which camp you're in."
"Despite the backlash, the ad will only do good things for Nike, given the company’s younger demographics."
"I think we also need to acknowledge that it is increasingly risky for brands NOT to choose a side – younger generations expect it."

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34 Comments on "Nike campaign tests ‘all publicity is good publicity’ adage"


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Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

Generation Z is all about authenticity. When a brand states “this is who we are,” that’s the best customer service you can offer because ultimately they’re selling a feeling and a world view and saying this is where we need to go and we’re willing to stake our brand. This is in line with their brand ethos and like Starbucks and Target they will get blowback but ultimately will make the world better.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign and advertising strategy have consistently been on the edge of controversy. As we all know, controversy helps to drive interest and, in turn, will drive sales for the iconic retailer. The latest Colin Kaepernick campaign is one of the more controversial stances the company has taken, particularly considering how polarizing the whole national anthem situation has been.

Either way you look at things, Nike has sparked another conversation, which depending on your perspective will either draw you to the brand or, perhaps for the minority, draw you away. Publicity, good or bad, is a delicate thing, especially in the age of social media. There was a time when any publicity was good publicity. Nike’s stance puts their company’s name in the limelight and makes it part of the national conversation. The company stock may take a minor hit but, in the long game, this ad is yet another blip on the radar.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

This isn’t about all publicity being good publicity … this is about having the guts to stand for something in a cultural climate where it’s very much needed.

Nike has been struggling mightily and part of that reason is that they haven’t had a strong authentic “story” in a while. Good for them to taking a stand — my gut is that it will bode well for them. However, in light of the issues that they’ve had with female leadership, I have to question if they are talking out of both sides of their mouth.

Mohamed Amer
BrainTrust
Mohamed Amer
Independent Board Member, Investor and Startup Advisor
7 months 19 days ago

Nike has a tradition of appealing to youth and being controversial. The brand’s valuable cachet is not built on being accommodating or compromising. What reverence exists is focused on taking incredible risks that define one’s identity and aspirations. That said, the Colin Kaepernick campaign is in line with Nike’s roots and strengths. Despite the ongoing controversy, this is a powerful (and risky) statement that will help and not harm the brand and sales results going into the football season.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

Nike’s campaign has generated both attention and discussion which is, arguably, one of its central aims. However, it is also a risky strategy in that it addresses, and appears to take sides on, a highly politicized issue. That means it could ultimately alienate and lose customers, as well as winning over others. Sadly, politics today is both visceral and vicious; so anything that touches on the political sphere is going to divide opinion.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

So true Neil. Yes once you enter into the political arena, it becomes shockingly polarizing. So this latest controversial campaign may have some more consequences compared to their other “Just Do It” campaigns.

Nikki Baird
BrainTrust

While this particular example is pretty highly charged, I think we also need to acknowledge that it is increasingly risky for brands NOT to choose a side – younger generations expect it. In the not too distant future, a brand could lose out on BOTH sides of an issue, simply by not taking a side. I think, like Laura points out, where the rocks really lie under the water for Nike is in if they can put authenticity and genuineness behind this campaign, and not just center on controversy for controversy’s sake. That means, are they going to help all kinds of athletes find their voice for causes they care about? Or will they just ride on the wave (good and bad) generated by Kaepernick until it runs out?

Kenneth Leung
BrainTrust

I think in this case, Nike is also looking at the athlete sponsorship side. By signing Kaepernick, it separated itself from other shoe vendors when it comes to signing athletes in the future who are becoming more vocal about the issue. On the consumer side, this will cause some to abandon the brand, and it will cause some to double down on the brand. Nike is also betting that the new generation of consumers who are paying for the premium products will outnumber any loss of business from other side. The sales figures will tell the story in the end.

Art Suriano
BrainTrust

The answer is simple: Companies, entertainers, athletes, actors, recording artists and celebrities should remember what the public is expecting of them. They are not hoping to hear their unasked-for opinions on matters in which they too often have no clue of the real issue because of the lifestyle they lead. When a celebrity or athlete is earning $20 million a year, do I really want to hear them talk about poverty? Especially, when you find out they hardly contribute to any charities or do benefits.

Entertainers need to entertain, actors need to act and so on; and businesses need to stay out of political issues. It backfires every time because no matter what side you’re on, the other side is unhappy and will cause problems. I like when for example Home Depot donated millions of dollars of products to help those after Hurricane Harvey. That type of generosity is putting one’s celebrity to a good cause, and it’s something those who have an audience should look at and practice themselves.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

I respectfully disagree Art.

When a company or celebrity decides to publicly position themselves on an issue, it creates an emotional bond that allows for customers to enjoy their product or performance at a deeper level if they align. If they don’t, the opposite may happen — and that is OK.

Using your Home Depot example, would you prefer that JJ Watt did not use his platform to help raise $37 million for Hurricane Harvey? You can’t ask for the philanthropy without allowing the opinions and personalities to come with it.

What you are proposing is that public figures and institutions should become detached robots with no pulse, which is not the world I want to live in and a dangerous precedent for companies who have the power to greatly impact the environment and shape political policy.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Nike is about authenticity. I always supported Colin Kaepernick’s WHY, even if I wasn’t quite comfortable with his HOW. But then the whole point is to get noticed and to make your voice heard. Mission accomplished. And while it’s unfortunate that the intended statement was politicized the way it was, I guess it was also inevitable. I’m going to interpret Nike’s position as brave support for the original message. An authentic brand supporting an authentic athlete. The noise and discomfort of the process is not being allowed to subtract from the original intent. Nike is stronger for their position, even if they take a hit on the sales line.

Ananda Chakravarty
BrainTrust

For Nike, this is all about premier advertising and good marketing and they’ve rarely shied away from controversy. The boldness will pay off in the end — bringing attention to their brand, and for the most part be accretive. Nike’s campaign touches on one of the most important things about marketing — emotions, and locks in attention with a laser focus regardless of which camp you’re in. Your customers all feel before they think — being safe and predictable won’t drive attention or support.

Evan Snively
BrainTrust

Nike knows who its customers are. They might lose some sales on the fringe, but overall this ad will help invigorate their core and continue to propel them forward.

The most interesting subplot to me is how the relationship between Nike and the NFL will shift. The NFL has a deal with Nike for jerseys through 2028, so Nike making the decision to run this campaign with the man engaged in a legal battle with the league for blacklisting him is essentially a big middle finger to the NFL and its commissioner, knowing that there isn’t much that they can do about it.

I feel like this is not the last time we will see a Kaepernick ad this season.

Lee Peterson
BrainTrust

I’m with Colin and have been from day one. It’s a travesty what happened to him and the NFL is going to pay for their collusion (ruling came down in favor of CK last week). Tommie Smith and John Carlos were forerunners at the ’68 Olympics and paid an even worse price. But is Nike the vehicle to call attention to your cause? A giant corporation? I think we know what’s in it for them. I guess it depends on how much of a purist you are.

In any case, glad to see him get the attention and glad we’re still talking about the cause of said attention. PS: I think it’ll work for Nike. Actually, it already is. I just hope they’re sincere and follow through.

Ricardo Belmar
BrainTrust

Nike succeeds as a brand as long as they stay front and center in the public eye. This campaign will surely deliver plenty of attention to the brand. Whether that translates into sales remains to be seen, but something tells me they won’t be hurt by any negative publicity over this — consumers who disagree with Colin Kaepernick’s position likely were not buying Nike products to begin with. This certainly won’t change their position. Much like our political system today, this campaign will likely serve to strengthen Nike’s fan base and continue to keep away those that dislike the brand. That said, much like Amazon, Nike has succeeded in getting us to talk about them and that keeps them top of mind for many consumers!

Adrian Weidmann
BrainTrust

Nike has been an iconic brand for years. They’ve used powerful imagery and messaging as foundational elements in telling their story. That story started with Steve Prefontaine and continues with the latest imagery of Colin Kaepernick. The power of brand is founded upon a genesis story and its voice gets louder with each emotional story. (watch Nike’s Heinrich Blumchen video short!) Given their history with tremendous storytelling, I have no doubt that Nike’s latest chapter will be successful in capturing emotions and wallets.

Lisa Goller
Guest

Nike knew this bold move would resonate among its target market. Millennials are the most diverse generation in U.S. history and nearly half of Gen Z belong to a minority, so race relations are relevant to them. Nike stands out by prioritizing purpose, which could harm short-term profits yet win long-term loyalty, as younger consumers actively seek out ethics and corporate social responsibility. That’s why the bigger risk for Nike would have been to remain silent amid political audacity. In this age of fear, consumers crave courage.

gordon arnold
Guest

Nike sales will change and we will see this decision last for decades. It has been the longstanding tradition of sales methodologies to remain unaligned with politics and religion. The 21st century has for 18 years resisted tradition only to follow a method of freedom of expression. Winners have shocked and rocked the world. Losers and winners alike seem to struggle with letting go of their immediate or aftershock losses and methods.

Change is good but immoderate separation always ignites resentment as well as ignorance. This is where we face decisions like this for the long haul. What is put at risk is the corporate stabilities that are needed for long-term market projections and growth. We run businesses not ideas. Ideals come and go with what should be lesser predictability than a business. Maybe this is a core reason for the seeming permanence of a continuing 21st century retail downward spiraling.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Certainly this is a politically hot issue. It is visceral on both sides of the debate. Knowing that and the success of Nike, one must believe that this decision was well researched and well thought through. Nike is in the business to do business and would be very careful to not shoot themselves in the foot.

If they know what they stand for and what their customers stand for then the only conclusion that I can come up with is that they know this will not only get them more attention, but more sales. While some will burn their Nike sneakers, others will buy multiple pairs and the “Just Do It” clothing that goes with it.

Notably, Kaepernick’s jersey and clothing was among the top 50 in the NFL in 2017, even though he never played a game and was not on any team. To me that signals astonishing admiration for him, no matter his talent or his personal authenticity.

Paula Rosenblum
BrainTrust

Somehow this time the “thumbs up” vs. “thumbs down” on the responses above are sort of comical. Totally dependent on one’s political beliefs.

Now, since my political beliefs are no secret, I will simply say that generally boycotts don’t do much. Remember the Target boycott because of gender neutral bathrooms? Nothing (though the media asked on every earnings call).

The people who applaud this move still point out that Nike’s products are not made under the best working conditions, so I don’t see a lot of “buy more” on my own social media feeds. Just applause for this move because — well, like I said, my (and my friends’) political beliefs are no secret.

Is it good publicity? It certainly avoids other issues.

And I believe the drop in NFL TV viewership is less because of players taking a knee than it is to the movie “Concussion.” I love football but I feel guilty every time I watch it now.

Brandon Rael
BrainTrust

Yes indeed. The thumbs up and down meters are through the roof with this one! Very comical!

Carl Van Ostrand
Guest

Good points. At its core, advertising is still all about sales and effectiveness. So I am waiting for a report that somehow shows shopper and sales volume on the heels of this ad campaign. 🙂 That said, there are larger, grander “plays” being made here to spark discussion and be at the center of it. And yes there are also larger more serious controversies with both the NFL and Nike as entities.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

It IS fun to look at the thumbs-up and down responses. There are days I take thumbs-down on my comments as a badge of honor. 🙂

Ed Rosenbaum
BrainTrust

I agree with you Paula. The thumbs up and down have been interesting to watch. And yes, they are more of a political statement than a concern for Nike’s move. We have to at least acknowledge Nike’s willingness to take a stand when they did not have to. The only one forcing this move is Nike’s beliefs. I applaud their gumption.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Well it is a bold move. In today’s rather crazy polarized environment it’s really hard to predict the outcome. Maybe it’s a numbers game. If the minority who don’t support this view stop shopping, and the greater number of customers who do support the view increase, chances are sales will increase. I suspect it has more to do with the next shoe that comes out and the athlete who wears it than this ad. Memory is pretty short term today.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
7 months 19 days ago

Nike did the right thing, just as it’s done for 30 years of Just Do It. Their company’s unwavering mission is to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world” and true to its commitment to athletes*, this campaign is right on mission, and right on strategy. BTW, the “*” reflects that “if you have a body, you’re an athlete.”

While I was not the biggest Kaapernick fan, I have nothing but respect for his stance and his commitment to social justice. Only brand leaders take such stands and props to Nike and Kaepernick (and his team, including some BA lawyers) for making this happen.

Speaking with a Nike alum and client yesterday, he smartly posited, “when was the last time anyone in the category did something this memorable?” Over the last 30 years, there is only one way to answer this. Congratulations Nike and W&K on 30 years of one of the greatest campaigns in the history of the world.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
BrainTrust

Obviously the campaign has created a buzz. The overarching questions are 1.) Can and should a for-profit organization take a stand on issues it believes in, even if it has a potential negative impact on its bottom line? 2.) Beyond the social justice question, how does this campaign resonate with its target market — does it address the profitability question?

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Any press is good press. Nike is picking a side and I don’t think that’s going to negatively affect them over the long run. Despite the backlash, the ad will only do good things for Nike, given the company’s younger demographics. About 60 percent of their business is outside the United States.

It’s a calculated risk. Nike probably got approval on this decision from their board of directors. For every 25 people who aren’t going to buy Nike product another 50 are going to buy their products.

A lot of the people that say they will boycott Nike, won’t. There will be a lot tweets between now and the time they buy their next sports item. By that time, they will likely forget their stance and buy Nike products, just like they have in the past. Nike is probably the best marketing company in the business. This campaign has already blown up and will only increase their influence and brand loyalty with their key demographic.

David Naumann
BrainTrust

Hear what Ken Morris said on CBS Boston yesterday.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

From a publicity perspective this has certainly got a lot of attention — everyone is talking about Nike. Publicity is at the heart of this — we’re talking about an ad at the end of the day — but it’s more about Nike’s positioning as a brand. What does it stand for? What does it believe? Where does it want to be positioned? Being authentic, having a stance, is increasingly important for differentiating brands.

While its position may be polarising, Nike knows its audience — it will have thought about what this means to them and their values. They buy into Nike for a reason and this is another extension of that. The important thing is for Nike to make sure that it is true to this position or it quickly becomes an exercise in calculated PR over authenticity.

Doug Garnett
BrainTrust

Where Nike should be concerned are the people who note that the choice to make this statement can appear quite self-serving — especially for a brand which is suffering some setbacks right now.

Self-serving and “authenticity” don’t go together. But, I don’t hold with all the hype about Gen Z and authenticity. Product, for 95% of Gen Z, trumps all secondary values like environmental concerns or political concerns.

So, in the end, I think Nike will be just fine. Should they have done this? Probably not. But it’s not going to be devastating the way the campaign’s opponents want.

(That said, history shows us it’s NOT true that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” There’s bad publicity – except sometimes companies become smart in leveraging it to become not so bad.)

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

“Sacrifice everything”… but lucrative endorsement contract, I guess. Nike has always made “in your face” a big part of their image. Some love them for it, some do not — and this is no different.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

Good for Nike! This topic is controversial, and sometimes Nike is known for being a bit edgy and controversial in their advertising. So nothing like this surprises me. I am not sure if the campaign caused the stock to go down. It will take more than a day to figure that out.

The question is endorsing the controversial figure. I don’t agree with Kaepernkick taking a knee during the National Anthem, but I respect his right to a non-violent “statement” in protest to what he believes in. As a public figure under contract with a sports team, there may be contractual obligations Kaepernick has to honor. He chose to break those, and at the same time accepted that there would be consequences. He has a right to fight those decisions, but I digress. This is just opinion, but I can’t see this ad hurting Nike. This is exactly who they are. #JustDoIt… and #KeepDoingIt

Christopher P. Ramey
BrainTrust
Nike’s decision to include Colin Kaepernick is bold, rebellious and attention-getting. And, from a marketer’s position, this is the type of “Della Femina” marketing we all dream about; so powerful that it makes the news and RetailWire! But, let’s not kid ourselves, Nike needs it right now because as we’ve learned their culture is “discriminatory and filled with sexual harassment” according to press reports, recent firings and lawsuits. Sometimes marketing’s job is sleight of hand like a magician doing card tricks; lookie here so you don’t see what’s happening over there. What’s a company to do when it is caught in its own Weinstein “ME TOO” moment where PR hasn’t proven to be effective? Us marketers know! It’s more marketing that’s even more outrageous than the situation they’re already in! Nike is merely diverting attention by leveraging an antagonistic athlete who didn’t find his calling in life until he was benched. Sports can be cruel. So can consumers. Marketing and advertising are meant to sell product. Angering prospects and customers is rarely good marketing strategy.… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Nike's campaign touches on one of the most important things about marketing -- emotions, and locks in attention regardless of which camp you're in."
"Despite the backlash, the ad will only do good things for Nike, given the company’s younger demographics."
"I think we also need to acknowledge that it is increasingly risky for brands NOT to choose a side – younger generations expect it."

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