Nike’s use of Colin Kaepernick as the face of a new advertising campaign is a “big strategic play” and those burning the products they’ve already bought in response are only adding to the brand’s “legend,” according to a sports marketing expert.
Last week the new NFL season began. As it was about to get underway, quarterback Kaepernick uploaded images on social media with the Nike logo and “Just do it” slogan alongside the caption: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The 30-year-old, who was at the forefront of player protests against racial injustice and police brutality when he knelt during the national anthem in 2016, has been out of the league since 2017 and has filed a grievance against the NFL in which he alleges owners have colluded to ensure he remains unsigned.
Against that backdrop, the NFL’s jersey supplier Nike has launched a campaign with Kaepernick as its figurehead, which has contradictory opinion.
Serena Williams is among those to have tweeted her approval but there was a social-media backlash as some users set fire to Nike trainers, while president Donald Trump told The Daily Caller the sportswear giant had sent “a terrible message.”
Simon Chadwick, a professor of sports enterprise, claimed Nike’s Kaepernick campaign will have been carefully thought out.
“If you’re against him, you’re probably more likely to be of a pro-Trump ilk and clearly that is not what Nike is trying to do with its brand,” he told Omnisport.
“What Nike is trying to do is target the kind of consumers who would look up to Kaepernick as a role model, who see equality as very important, who are resistant to some of the things that Trump, and his administration are trying to do.
“For every training shoe burned, for every vehement anti-Nike social media post that’s made, it just adds to the brand — it gives credence to what Nike is trying to do. It really adds to the myth and the legend that is Nike.”
“Apparel-brand preferences are established very early on in our lives. This play by Nike is not just a short-term antagonistic measure designed to raise awareness to some of the issues in the NFL. This is a big strategic play; it’s about sustainable follow-up business.”
“Because essentially American football is an American phenomenon, I don’t think Nike needs to necessarily concern itself with the transportability of the controversy around it,” he explained.
“The Russians, the Chinese, the British may not understand or care. There’s something self-confined about this. It is about drawing support from key target markets in the United States. It’s a relatively safe strategic play, controlled within the boundaries of the United States.”
Yet Chadwick does believe Nike is especially unique in its willingness to become involved in controversial issues.
“Here’s a brand that’s saying, ‘This is what we stand for’,” he said.
“There will be people who are vehemently against what Nike is trying to do, but equally there will be athletes, consumers, influencers who will be passionately supporting Nike right now.”