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The Influencers

Why a Brand Should Make a Stand. Or Even a Kneel

INFLUENCER: Brilliant marketing ploy or genuine show of support? The&Partnership’s Yan Elliot explores Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad

Why a Brand Should Make a Stand. Or Even a Kneel

Just when you were wondering how long can Nike keep doing the same thing over and over again and that perhaps it is about time there was a challenger (Under Armour please step up) they come out with a controversial new campaign. 

A campaign centred around Colin Kaepernick, a man who started a protest movement against police brutality and racism by kneeling during the US national anthem in 2016. He is also the founder of America’s ‘Know Your Rights’ campaign.

This is a great example of what I call ‘Advertising and Activism’. It’s a culturally rich area and potentially, for those smart enough and brave enough, a pretty damn lucrative one. 

Brands as big as Nike do not live in a void. They are so a part of our fabric that they live and breathe culture. In fact, in many ways they are the ones creating it; fitbit, Nike plus, Fuelband, The Pro Hijab. 

Perhaps a brand like Nike is so a part of our culture that they cannot escape it so, for them, the best decision is to lean firmly into it. And lean firmly into they have. Almost to the point of falling over. 

What I find fascinating about this campaign is they have taken sides. They’ve made a stand (or should I say a kneel) but fundamentally they have made a deliberate, conscious decision. 

Now, was the decision made on principle or through well calculated rationale? Of course, they would have run the numbers on this. But where many brands would have decided it is not worth the risk, Nike have spoken up, made a call, realising it is well worth the risk. You see, for every hater of this campaign there is a supporter. And the glorious truth to us taking sides is that we then feel obligated to demonstrate this. We tell them – in this case Colin - and all those around us, that we are with him, leaving him in no doubt, he has our full backing. And how do we do this? By buying the latest Kaepernick shirt, shoe and sweatband that has been born out of the campaign. 

It’s not lost on us either that we are not just buying our support but we are investing in a - what will become a well-documented - piece of Nike history. I can hear the chat of college canteens in ten years’ time … “Remember when Nike came out with that campaign for Kaepernick”? Prompting the reply, “Dude, I had the shirt and the sick shoes”. 

Meanwhile, it’s fantastic to see a brand with a strong point of view get behind their ethos. I hope it has impact on many other brands who can recognise that standing up for what you believe in will pay off. 

Of course, some would argue that Nike would survive whatever simply because it has a brand value of about 16 billion dollars, but I don’t buy that as an argument because they have the most to lose. Actually, isn’t it usually the smaller players in the market that take the bigger risks simply because they have nothing to lose and have to create impact? It’s refreshing and good to see a big player sticking their neck out. Particularly as we are always talking to brands about how their behaviour should be consistent with their beliefs, and that if you say something as a brand then you should back it up with proof. 

So the answer to whether this is a brilliant marketing ploy or is it a genuine show of support is; both. And the world is a better place for it. 

It’s this type of thinking that can keep a brand fresh by exciting its existing audience and introducing it to a new one, ensuring the longevity of Nike. 

The wonderful thing about this campaign is that, apparently, Nike’s stock went down after this ad broke, so in effect, they have done exactly what they have been asking others to do…

‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’. 

(News just in…Sales are up 31%). 


Yan Eliot is joint executive creative director at The&Partnership
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