Sportswear giant Nike’s shares fell 3.9 per cent on Tuesday before recovering somewhat on Wednesday, after it released an ad on Twitter featuring US football player Colin Kaepernick and the phrase: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The tagline references Kaepernick’s status as persona non grata in the National Football League (NFL) and among some Americans, following his 2016 decision to begin kneeling during the national anthem before football games to protest police shootings of unarmed black men.
The protest sparked heated debate in the US, with President Donald Trump among those weighing in to call the act of kneeling disrespectful to American soldiers. Others praised the former quarterback’s activism. (Kaepernick has been out of a job since the end of the 2016 football season.)
The ad this week has revived that debate, with some voicing their support for Nike and Kaepernick on social media, posting photos of Nike products or saying they intend to buy new products. Athletes including Serena Williams, LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Chris Paul have indicated support for the ad.
I did the most basic thing I’ve ever done in my life and ordered an OUTRAGEOUSLY overpriced top from Nike after the @Kaepernick7 ad came out. Guess what? It’s sold out and they had to refund me the money ? So much for Nike making a mistake on that add! #BlackLivesMatter
— Did you… read the article? (@bungarsargon) September 5, 2018
Meanwhile, critics of Kaepernick’s protest have extended their dissent to Nike, posting videos of Nike products being burned or with the ‘swoosh’ cut out.
Nike you had a decent commercial going until Kaepernick became your face.Unreal you would align with someone who has sacrificed nothing compared to an American Soldier.#StandForTheAnthem ??
— Tammy Brockman (@gogators89) September 5, 2018
However, consensus is building that the backlash will result in a win for Nike, with Apex Marketing Group telling Bloomberg that the brand had already received more than $43 million worth of media exposure within the first 24 hours.
“This is right on the money for Nike. They stand for this irreverent, rebellious attitude. In this case, it’s reinforcing the brand,” Erich Joachimsthaler, CEO of strategy consulting firm Vivaldi, told Reuters.
Millennials and Gen Z consumers have been pushing brands to take public stands on important but potentially divisive issues.
While brands and businesses have traditionally sought to remain neutral on issues like politics, the opportunity to be perceived as authentic and engaged increasingly appears to outweigh the risk of alienating consumers who disagree with the position.
“Old angry white guys are not a core demographic for Nike,” Matt Powell, a senior adviser with market research firm NPD Group, told Reuters.
Nike has sponsored Kaepernick since 2011 and said he will be one of several faces for a campaign marking the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan.