Since sportswear giant Nike revealed former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick as the face of its latest "Just Do It" campaign, reactions were varied, sometimes even downright hostile. Some people posted videos on social media showing them burning their Nike gear, while others swore never to buy the company's products again. For a company that has been careful in the past not to get involved in political issues for fear of alienating a section of their consumers, this is a very bold statement.
Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016. He did this to protest the wanton killing of unarmed black men by police in America. This sharply divided Americans, as everyone is obligated to stand during the national anthem as a way of respecting the soldiers who've sacrificed their lives for the country. He was soon joined by other players in a protest that went national. President Donald Trump got involved by expressing his displeasure at this form of protest and even pressured the NFL teams to fire players who took the knee. Kaepernick is currently a free agent. In November 2017 he filed a grievance against the NFL and its owners, accusing them of conspiring to not hire him.
In that regard, Nike seems to have taken a calculated risk making him the face of their iconic Just Do It campaign. Being a multi-billion dollar company, they must have weighed the pros and cons of making such a move and decided that it would pay off handsomely in the long run. Sure, the company is pushing for equality and generally taking a stand against racial discrimination, but at the end of the day it is a corporation with obligations to shareholders. These shareholders are primarily interested in growing profits, so Nike must come up with campaigns that help in meeting this objective.
For the moment, this seems to have been the right decision for the Oregon based company. Although stock fell 2% after the ad announcement, online orders rose nearly 30% compared to previous years. The company's stock has fully recovered and has been on an upward trajectory. Some financial analysts have speculated that Nike earned over $100 million worth of free publicity due to the buzz created by this latest advertisement. In coming up with this ad, Nike also showed that it is unique from the other sportswear companies, in that it stands for "higher ideals" such as equality. It also targeted a global audience, and the rest of the world doesn't really care about the controversy caused by Colin Kaepernick's kneeling during the anthem.
So overall, this is turning out to be a very intelligent marketing decision.
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