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It’s safe to say that Nike has had its fair share of controversies over the years. However, it was last week when the sportswear brand arguably fell into its most divisive campaign to date. Nike chose Colin Kaepernick to be the face of their latest campaign, a famous American football player, and also civil rights activist. At a glance, the partnership doesn’t come as a surprise. Nike has always prided itself on encouraging diverse ways of thinking in their advertising, but did they take it a step too far this time?
Kaepernick has been a polarising character ever since he first refused to stand for the national anthem before a match in 2016, instead sitting down and then later sinking to his knees. He has consistently adopted this token of protest ever since, using his presence in sport to draw attention to social injustice in both his actions and his words. The following year, no football club offered him a contract.
This year, Nike decided to make the most of his story by placing it at the heart of their latest campaign. ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’ was captioned over a close up image of the sportsman’s face – arguably a perfect fit with Nike’s mindset of ‘just do it.’ However, Kaepernick’s supposed disrespect towards America prompted backlash on social media and beyond- even Trump got in on the action. Consequently, there were calls to pull the ad, with #BoycottNike generating over 1.4 billion impressions on Twitter. (Crimson Hexagon, 2018) It wasn’t just a social media storm – customers threatened to burn their Nike shoes, and more importantly, their share prices dropped by 3%. (CNBC, 2018)
However, Nike stuck to what they truly believed in and didn’t give into backlash, still affirming that the Kaepernick is “one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation,” Gino Fisanotti, vice-president of brand. Their loyalty and consistency towards their brand and the sportsman paid off. Over the same period of uproar, Nike’s online sales increased by 31%- almost doubling that of this time last year, refuting any previous conspiracy that the campaign would negatively affect sales. (Edison Trends, 2018) Whilst still early days, it will be interesting to see how Nike moves forward. Will they build on the Kaepernick strategy, or will they choose a safer figure in future advertising?