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Tanya Lee | Masterly marketing move, Nike!

Published:Thursday | September 6, 2018 | 12:00 AM
APA large billboard stands on top of a Nike store showing former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at Union Square in San Francisco on Wednesday.

So this week, Nike announced NFL free-agent-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick as the new face of their new Nike 30th anniversary "Just Do it Campaign".

The campaign was announced via social media with a portrait of Colin emblazoned with the words, "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." Kaepernick, a long-standing Nike athlete, took an unpopular stance of kneeling during the American national anthem while he was a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ersin the NFL. This was in peaceful protest of what he saw as racial injustices in America. It was his way of using his celebrity to effect change in society.

What's interesting is that Colin's action lit a fuse of athlete activism right across the globe. What started as one man shedding light on the recent spate of police brutality towards minorities across America has grown into many celebrities and athletes taking a knee, or wearing a tee, or going to social media to 'tackle' the social issues, pun intended.

And even the NFL has been forced to pay attention. Yes, Kaepernick's lawyers are pursuing a lawsuit against the NFL whose owners, they believe, are colluding to keep him out the league, but ironically the NFL is now participating in social programmes aimed at providing community support.

Jocelyn Moore, the NFL's executive vice-president of communications even recently stated, "The social justice issues that Colin and other professional athletes have raised deserve our attention and action."

But following the announcement of Colin as Nike ambassador this week, stocks for Nike fell by three per cent. Some Americans burnt their Nike jerseys, shoes, and socks on social media to protest the use of Kaepernick in Nike's newest campaign.


Banking on Kaepernick


But while Nike must have expected this backlash based on how polarising issues of race have been historically, they obviously expect to bank on Kaepernick as well. Why, you may ask, would a brand align with an athlete tackling issues related to race in America? I believe the answer is quite simple. I suspect it's because Nike has done their research, and in 2018, activism appeals to their core customer base.

Truth is, for a slew of young millennials, athletes like Colin Kaepernick represent their ideals. Many modern athletes who wear political messages on their T-shirts, jerseys, and sneakers are mirroring the values of a generation that wants to speak up and be heard on issues that are relevant. And, yes, the millennial consumer happens to be Nike's core consumer base!

Research shows that more than half of Nike's customers are actually less than 35 years of age. They take very distinct positions on social issues and share this with others via the social space. In other words, it's cool to have a political view, and it's cool to wear those views across your T-shirt, or on your sneakers or even tattooed on your skin. It's the 2018 millennial way!

We saw this displayed by one of Nike's biggest ambassadors last NBA season. Lebron James spoke on issues of politics and race, which gained the furore of a Fox News host who said the athlete should "shut up and dribble". James responded by saying he would "definitely not shut up and dribble" because he wants to talk about "what's really important". In a display of activism, James then sported a Nike sneaker with the words "more than an athlete" printed across the side. This became hugely popular among his fans.


Nike's Core Ideals


And so, Nike continues to champion one of the core ideals for the company, that of equality. This continues Nike's ongoing effort to encourage people to take the fairness and respect they see in sport and translate them off the field. So says their website.

Whether it's a winning move for the brand is left to be seen, but do note that sheer marketing metrics around Colin Kaepernick are in their favour. His jersey sales are still one of the highest in the NFL and he's not even playing in the league anymore! He's the only free agent in the top 50 list. That's the kind of bankability Nike is counting on!

It's great to be on the right side of history, and it's great if you profit while at it. Masterly marketing move, Nike!