Nike ignited a firestorm of fury with its new Colin Kaepernick ad, but it's still a brilliant strategy

  • Nike selected the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick as one of the faces of a new ad campaign featuring the brand’s “Just Do It” slogan.
  • The move was instantly controversial, with some Nike customers threatening a boycott, cutting up their Nike clothing, and burning their sneakers.
  • An ad like this carries risk, but it will still most likely pay off for Nike.

Nike has stirred a hornet’s nest with its newest “Just Do It” ad campaign.

It features a close-up of the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The reference to sacrifice most likely links Kaepernick’s going unsigned in the NFL to his kneeling during the national anthem, which he did in 2016 to protest racial injustice.

Nike’s new ad is clearly a risk. It predictably blew up on social media, with some praising the ad and others lambasting both it and the company. It has spurred calls for a boycott of Nike products. Some social-media users posted videos of people lighting their shoes on fire.

A representative for Nike did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment on the boycott threats.

Nike had to have to known the ad would not be taken well by some; the anthem protests have been particularly polarising since last year when President Donald Trump began characterising them as disrespectful to the US flag and military.

By at least one measure, the ad has been enormously successful. Nike and its ad were top trending terms on Twitter on Monday when the ad was released. Nike has already seen more than $US43 million worth of media exposure, nearly $US19 million of which was positive, according to Apex Marketing Group data reported by Bloomberg.

At the very least, everyone is talking about it.

Keeping belief-oriented customers in mind

Put simply, however, it’s a game of numbers when it comes to big brands’ decision-making. As Matt Powell, a sports-industry analyst for NPD Group, put it simply in a tweet: “Old angry white guys are not a core demographic for Nike.”

In fact, around 67% of Nike’s customer base is younger than 35, according to NPD Group via Bloomberg, and as a group it’s more ethnically diverse than average.

NikeHollis Johnson/Business Insider

Younger customers are more likely to expect the brands they buy from to take a stand as Nike just did, with 60% of millennials identified as “belief-driven buyers” globally, according to a 2017 study by Edelman. In fact, half of all customers in the survey said they bought based on belief.

Though Kaepernick is unsigned, Nike retained him from a deal dating back to 2011, according to The New York Times. Nike and Kaepernick extended the deal with the new campaign.

Kaepernick’s profile has not faded in his time out of the league, and sales of his merchandise remained strong in 2017 even though he was not playing. His official San Francisco 49ers jersey was the 39th-best-selling jersey for 2017, and it was the only one from a player not currently in the league to break the top 50 in sales.

Nike is planning on releasing a line of merchandise with shoes and T-shirts in conjunction with the ad, according to The Times, and it will donate to Kaepernick’s nonprofit,which focuses on “higher education, self empowerment, and instruction to properly interact with law enforcement in various scenarios.”

Nike also made a shrewd move when it signed a 10-year deal to outfit all the teams in the NFL in March. It did not need the league’s approval for Kaepernick’s appearance, as he is not currently a player.

“Nike has a long-standing relationship with the NFL and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use current players,” a Nike representative told The Wall Street Journal. “Colin isn’t currently employed by an NFL team and has no contractual obligation to the NFL.”

The NFL is unlikely to be happy with the ad, as Kaepernick has filed a lawsuit accusing the league of colluding to keep him out because of his protests.

Read more about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad:

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