Marketing Really Works: A look at Nike’s new ad campaign for their 30th anniversary

Is Nike’s controversial new ad campaign, featuring Colin Kaepernick, a reckless gamble or a stroke of marketing genius?

What should a great advert do and how should it make us feel?

It should be both memorable and powerful, it should make you think about that particular brand or business, and crucially it should grab the attention of your given audience.

Nike’s most recent advert for their 30th anniversary is unarguably successful in doing this. They have tapped into a narrative which clearly resonates with a lot of people but provokes the contempt of others.

If you have not seen it, the advert shows a number of various athletes of different races, genders, ages, religions, and nationalities training or competing in a number of sports. Narrating the advert is Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49er quarterback who found himself at centre of controversy back in 2016 when he chose to kneel for the National Anthem, in protest against racial injustice and police brutality. Consequentially, Kaepernick saw his six-year NFL career come to an end when no team elected to sign him.

Kaepernick, the chosen face of the campaign, narrates the sporting journey of a range of athletes. Among them is the Seahawk’s standout line-backer, Shaquem Griffin, who made history recently when he became the first-one handed player to be drafted to play in the NFL. Also featured is Canadian teen soccer star Alphonso Davies, who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled the Liberian civil war. Other athletes include a high school female line-backer, a young boy wrestler with no legs and an iron man who overcame a brain tumour. Serena Williams and Lebron James are some of the more famous athletes to feature, who have respectively shown their support for the campaign online.

To announce the release of the advert Kaepernick tweeted a picture of himself with the caption “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”, with the Nike tick logo and the slogan “Just do it” below.

There has been a massive reaction to the advert online and through various news outlets. The hashtag #boycottnike began trending on twitter when the advert was initially released on labour day weekend. Some people took to posting videos online of them burning their Nike merchandise in protest against Nike’s endorsement of Kaepernick. President Trump felt the need to address the advert in a tweet; he inferred the company should fear for their future sales, commenting that Nike is “getting absolutely killed”. There has been some irresponsible journalism claiming that the negative reactions to the advert directly resulted in a 3% drop in Nike’s share prices last Tuesday. However, publications such as Forbes magazine were quick to point out that the drop in share price is less to do with the immediate reaction to the advert, and more likely to do with market fluctuation that week, which saw a worldwide share price retreat.

From a marketing perspective this advert is both strategic and progressive. Nike have very clearly outlined their company values, showing that they are willing to back their own views, at the risk of potentially losing customers. This decision specifically resonates with their own company slogan – ‘Just Do It’ – in a sense, Nike have taken their own advice. By creating the controversial ad campaign they have just done it. In and of itself this advert serves to further underline the brilliancy of the slogan. It is simple, but resonates with many. It has stood the test of time and its memorability is undeniable; I challenge you to try and remember any slogan from adidas or puma from recent years.

The angle Nike have chosen for the campaign constitutes a bold and clever positioning move regarding their customer demographic, streamlining their customer base for the future. You might ask why Nike would risk doing this?
Ian Schafer, founder and former CEO of Deep Focus, who has worked with Nike in the past, argues that “If people want to hold onto this as a reason to never buy Nike again, I think Nike is very OK with losing those people as customers”.

However, beyond this, we can assume that as a business, Nike have been much more analytical about the outcome of this campaign and the ‘risk’ they are taking is more strategic than just a hopeful gamble that certain publications might have you believe.

It must be considered that places outside of North America like the Far East, Latin America and Africa (Nigeria in particular) have made huge economic leaps in recent years. As they get richer and gain a disposable income they grow an appetite for Western consumer goods. For Nike this means a growing market that exceeds the speed of growth of their North American market. Coincidentally, in these very same countries, because of his stance on foreign policy, environmental issues, and social policy, there are growing numbers of people that are becoming very anti-Trump, Britain included (see Trump baby blimp).

The US roughly makes up a quarter of Nike’s market. If we say that half of that quarter dislike the ad, assuming all of these people buy Nike merchandise, this is the proposed loss Nike could experience. This is hardly damning for a number of reasons. Firstly, owing to the current political climate, in these foreign markets the ad campaign has more than likely been well received, a convenient result to be had for Nike’s largest and fastest growing market portion. Secondly, Nike’s regular customers are typically young, multi-ethnic and progressive. Resultantly, it’s not implausible to suggest that any damage done by the loss of customers who might buy the occasional pair on monarchs will be compensated for by the positive reaction emanating from this demographic in North America and worldwide. Moreover, this advert will help to strengthen any pre-existing connection such customers have with the brand and will no doubt inspire new relationships with likeminded people.

Another simple and fundamental reason why this is a marketing dream, is because Nike have unequivocally been successful in creating noise! Since the ad launch there have been 2.7 million mentions of the brand online, and counting. Trump has played directly into their hands; it does not get much better than the president talking about your brand in the hope to render traction. Furthermore, to the same effect there are now countless parodies of the advert online, helping to keep the conversation live. Nike have made a strong suggestion about their brand beliefs, so they must be careful to keep their brand promise and make sure they are not seen to step outside of these values.

For now though, it seems their ‘gamble’ has well and truly paid off. Yesterday, BBC news reported that, according to Edison trends, Nike’s online sales grew by 31% in the bank holiday weekend after the advert was launched. Enough said.

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