Skip to main content

NIKE Just Does it With Colin Kapernick

Sep 26, 2018 10:21AM ● By Staff Writer

So, unless you have sworn off social media altogether, gotten rid of cable, or decided to head out into the woods for a life of solitary meditation, you have heard of the recent Nike deal featuring Colin Kaepernick in its new “Just Do It” campaign. Depending on which side of the fence you land, you probably have some pretty strong feelings either way. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to jump into the fray and voice my own opinions on the matter, but that’s not going to happen. Instead, I will talk about what I know best, and that is branding.

With that being said, the real question you have to ask, is “what was Nike thinking?” Are they completely insane to get in the middle of such a heated and contested topic? Or are they geniuses for tapping into an emerging market that no one else has embraced? I guess the real answer is a little of both.

According to Mathew J. Belvedere, senior editor at CNBC, “Nike’s Colin Kaepernick is the ‘gangster genius brand move of 2018.’” And while Mr. Belvedere may be right, the results could also be costly. No, this move will not bring down the mighty brand of Nike. While I’m sure there will be some fallback, there is a reason behind such a risk. Or, at least I think there is.

I think it’s safe to say that Nike doesn’t just make decisions on a whim. This move was seen internally as a way to not only tap into a disenfranchised audience within the U.S., but also a new and emerging audience abroad.

But are they right, even if they are right?

Now, I know I said I wasn’t going to voice my own opinions, but it’s kind of hard to write this without doing so. So no, I don’t think they’re right.

At the end of the day, it’s hard to embrace the headline of, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything," when it’s coming from a 2nd string QB and millionaire that was in the process of losing his job, even if he was still standing. For Nike to get involved in social justice is kind of ludicrous. Just type in “Nike Sweatshops” and decide for yourself.

None of this discounts the argument or the reason for why he chose to kneel in the first place, but the timing and place of such an action is suspect.

In the end, businesses have to take in the risk and reward for their actions, but they also have to consider the overall damage to their brand. Will this decision destroy Nike? Of course not. But it will damage the trust and loyalty that so many Americans have placed in their care.

I would like to believe that this move is genuine and is meant to bring light to a conversation that is needed in America. Chances are, it was based on profits, pure and simple. As a believer in capitalism, I’m in full support for making money, but never at the sacrifice of your brand promise. Without that, you are no longer a brand I can believe in.

Michael J. Russo – Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer at brandRUSSO, a strategic branding and communications firm who regularly comments on the state of advertising and all things branding.