INFLUENCER: Why we should take Nike’s seemingly progressive stance on social injustice with a pinch of salt, according to No Sheet Music’s Dan Altendorff
Even if you were a Martian landed on Earth this week, with no previous knowledge of Colin Kaepernick, Nike, or Middle Earth (sorry… I mean America) it’s almost certain you would have heard about the fact that the gargantuan sports brand had made an advertisement, which has added extra fuel to a political fire that has long been burning in the States.
Let’s be honest though, the prime reason Nike made an advert with Kaepernick was because it would get a reaction - to think that it was anything more than that would be foolish to say the least. Don’t get me wrong, no doubt there are people working at Wieden + Kennedy and Nike that fully support the former 49ers quarterback taking a knee to combat racial inequality and police violence, but that doesn’t distract from the fact that this is a campaign to sell sportswear.
As an advert it has already served its purpose tenfold. At the time of writing, despite earlier reports of a hit to their stock market value, Nike online sales are up as much as 31%, depending on where you look and the conversation across nearly all media is rife. In years gone by you could also count the fact the president passed comment on your campaign as some pretty savvy marketing. Nowadays less so, however, it still would’ve boosted the reach.
It did in fact do even more, as the #justburnit movement sparked online and those who took this as Nike siding with Kaepernick and against the values of America decided that the best way to show their discontent was to set fire to everything they had already paid said brand to own. Sorry to break it to you guys, but a Nike tick on fire is still a Nike tick and as long as it’s on a screen somewhere you’re still giving to Nike more than you are taking away.
It would be naïve to think this was a mistake; Nike and W+K didn’t accidentally piss off half of America. In the social media age people love being triggered, it gives them a reason to log on to a platform of choice and spew their opinions to an audience of what can feel like millions. What the campaign most certainly did do was provide W+K and Nike with a hell of a lot of free marketing.
In any case, was the whole campaign not built to shock and awe? A pretty basic concept in advertising, especially when the people you are targeting are likely to have some sort of knee-jerk reaction.
As entertaining as it is watching people cut their socks in half in a fit of rage, unfortunately this movement seemingly distracted almost everyone from some truly inspiring stories of the 15 other athletes featured.
We should be talking about Isaiah Bird, the 10-year-old wrestler, born without legs, who also runs track, swims, surfs and plays both American football and football. Or Megan Blunk who lost the use of her legs in a car accident in 2008 and has since become a star playing wheelchair basketball and through her own struggle with depression helped others suffering with mental health issues. Then there is Shaquem Griffin, the first player drafted in to the NFL despite having his hand amputated due to a prenatal condition.
That was just three, and there are 12 other athletes, each with their own stories of inspiration and success through varying trials and tribulations. When you consider the tagline ‘believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything’ you could make some pretty strong cases for why they should be the face of Nike’s new ‘Dream Crazy
However, would this have sparked such viral conversation across the world? I doubt it. Which is why we must take Nike’s seemingly progressive stance on social injustice with a pinch of salt. This was calculated risk, not a statement of intent.
Nike has a history of making great adverts, who can forget the freestyle basketball
being played to the ad’s backing track or the Brazilian team showing off their samba skills in the Joga Bonito ad
, and it seems as though they have done it again. As for making a truly progressive political statement, I am not so sure. After all, just like Michael Jordan now infamously is alleged to have said, ‘Republicans buy sneakers, too’. Even if it is just to burn them.