Colin Kaepernick has been a controversial figure since 2016. As a player for the San Francisco 49ers, he refused to stand during the national anthem. At first, he sat out as a protest, then later went down on his knee. The protest was meant to draw the attention to the various police killings of African American people and other instances of injustice towards them. On the eve of the 30th anniversary of their ‘Just Do It campaign’, Nike decided to make Colin Kaepernick as one of the main faces for their campaign.
He had signed a deal with Nike earlier, who at the time were the clothing sponsors of the NFL, but didn’t appear in any Nike campaigns until 2010. In 2017, after his protest, he became a free agent i.e no team in the NFL signed him. In October that year, he filed a complaint against the NFL owners for colluding against signing him. So despite Nike signing him years ago, why now, why choose this time to add him into their ‘Just Do It’ campaign. The answer lies in its love for controversy. Nike is one of the most reputed and recognized brands in the world since it likes to take a stand on controversial issues, which other companies don’t, out of fear that it will impact on their reputation and market share..
Immediately, Nike’s share price fell by 2% as various groups reacted to it by burning and threatening of a boycott of its goods as #Nike Boycott was trending on Twitter. Tweeting #NikeBoycott, some people burned Nike sneakers or cut the swoosh logo off their socks because of the ad. On the other side, the campaign was acclaimed by figures including LeBron James and Serena Williams. A picture of Williams playing tennis says, for example: “Girls from Compton don’t play tennis. They own it.”
Kaepernick said of his protest: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
Donald Trump attacked into the turmoil, at one of his political rallies by launching attacks at various NFL players who choose to take the knee during the national anthem. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’” The American president raged.
After the massive outcry, it seems that Nike’s revenue would have gone down, yet, it actually ended up in its favour. In the days after the launch of the ad, the company’s online sales went up by 25%. It is because the supporters of Kaepernick and Nike bonded together over this controversy to buy more goods. Fans of Kaepernick and NFL appreciated the support led by Nike, where usually in this situation most of the companies terminate their contract with the athletes. Celebrities like Nick Cannon, LeBron James etc. came out in the support of the movement and used this movement to buy Nike goods and distribute it among the poor.
It’s not the first time that Nike has seen an increase in profits after taking a stand on a controversial issues. In June 2012, Nike raised the issue of Gender Equality in its Voices campaign. Revenue that year increased by 3.2 billion compared to last year. Nike has come under a lot of scrutiny for making ads with athletes who went under some controversy. In 2006, Nike made an ad with Kobe Bryant amid his sexual assault case, which later was dropped. In 2016, Kobe’s last professional season, Nike made $50 million dollars by selling his signature shoes, which is not bad for an ageing superstar. It is not that Nike doesn’t cut off its deals with athletes after some controversy. They cancelled their deal with Manny Pacquiao after he made homophobic comments, they also cancelled their deal with Lance Armstrong after his doping scandal came out in public.
So what is this deal with Nike’s increase in profits and controversy? Controversy does two things well: divide people and generate revenue. The footwear, sports equipment company Nike, is estimating to earn over $36 billion in 2018, is a perfect example of how a company has increased its sales by taking a stand on controversial issues. Nike, unlike other companies, doesn’t run away from taking a stand on controversial issues, it embraces it. Nike, masterfully, spots good controversy and is quick to run away from the bad. Decisions like these show Nike’s confidence in its market share. With competition from rivals increasing every day, companies are trying to use innovative advertising strategies to attract customers. And there you have it, how Nike, manages to do it every time.