Nike's Colin Kaepernick ad doesn't show him doing what made him controversial, and it's a brilliant strategic move

Thearon W. Henderson/GettyColin Kaepernick kneeling.
  • Nike‘s Colin Kaepernick ad notably lacks footage of the former NFL player kneeling during the national anthem before games as part of his protest against racial inequality and police brutality.
  • When news broke earlier this week that Kaepernick would star in a Nike ad, some responded with threats of a boycott.
  • By featuring Kaepernick alongside a wide range of inspirational athletes in the commercial but not using footage of the polarising protests, Nike seems to be getting the best of both worlds with the ad.

Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad notably lacks footage of the protests that elevated the former NFL player’s profile and that he says contributed to his being forced out of the league.

On Wednesday, Nike released a commercial narrated by Kaepernick that features a wide range of athletes, including inspirational amateurs, Serena Williams, and LeBron James.

While the ad shows essentially all the athletes playing sports, Kaepernick appears only in the final seconds. He is wearing not football gear, but a turtleneck and a tan coat.

Colin kaepernickNikeKaepernick in Nike’s ad.

Kaepernick was the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem before games in 2016 to protest racial inequality and police brutality. Critics saw the protest as disrespectful to the military, with President Donald Trump calling for players who protested during the anthem to be fired.

Kaepernick is embroiled in a lawsuit against the NFL, accusing team owners of colluding to keep him from being signed after he became a free agent in March 2017 because of his protests.

Nike did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment on the decision not to show Kaepernick kneeling in protest.

On Monday, Kaepernick made waves when he tweeted an image from Nike’s new “Just Do It” ad campaign showing Kaepernick’s face with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Anecdotally, people threatened to boycott Nike, with some even destroying their Nike shoes and socks. Trump chimed in on Twitter on Wednesday, saying that “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.”

Any larger effects on Nike’s business were unclear. Most business and brand observers say that Nike seems to have weighed the risks of running the Kaepernick ad.

“Nike’s campaign will generate both attention and discussion which is, arguably, one of its central aims,” Neil Saunders, the managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in a note on Tuesday. “However, it is also a risky strategy in that it addresses, and appears to take sides on, a highly politicized issue.”

He added: “Nike likely weighed the risks beforehand but, in our view, while it is noble to take a stand on something, it is also commercially imprudent to dash headlong into a very sensitive issue which polarizes opinion.”

By featuring Kaepernick alongside a wide range of inspirational athletes but not featuring footage of the polarising protests, Nike seems to be getting the best of both worlds with the Kaepernick ad.

Watch Nike’s full commercial:

Read more about Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad:

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