Of brand advertising and the Nike-Kaepernick saga

Kaepernick. Net.

Nike has taken what is considered a big gamble with the launch of their latest campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. In the past, companies and brands have tried their best to avoid taking strong public positions on political issues for fear of alienating any segment of potential customers.

As a result, this new campaign is quite a shock since Kaepernick has come to be one of the major faces of a highly divided political issue in the United States of America.

In 2016, the last time Kaepernick played for a team, he became a sensation following on his decision to kneel during the playing of his country’s national anthem rather than stand.

His action led to his now being a free agent and without a job as an American footballer.

However, the athlete maintains that his actions were a suitable response to the racial injustice which has taken deep roots in the American society.

The country has been split on Kaepernick’s choice of response to racial biases in the US with some seeing the footballer’s action as disrespectful while others see him as strong and principled.

With the strong divide over Kaepernick’s 2016 action, it has been quite a surprise to see him featured as one of the faces of Nike’s new “Just Do It” campaign. Media houses, cable news channels and social media have all been abuzz with the news.

Marketing and communication experts are themselves divided as to what motivated Nike to take this decision of including the embattled quarterback and also what will be the short and medium term effect on the Nike brand.

Personally I believe Nike is playing a long game which is risky but has a strong chance of paying off in the end.

Firstly, Kaepernick looks like the projected future of the US. A mixed race young man who is not quite Black but neither is he white; he is biracial and with a look that could be a Black/White mix or a Black/Arabic mix.

Nike is speaking to the future buyers of its products and is doing so by taking a position on an issue which is relatable to this demographic.

As highlighted in a Washington Post article on Tuesday, “Millennials, those Americans between the ages of 22 and 37, are projected to surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation in 2019, and fully 44 percent of them are of some race other than white.

For post-millennials, that number rises to 48 percent, and for post-post-millennials (American children under age 10), it grows to more than 50 percent.”

Secondly, Nike has been losing ground in the sneakers market for the last few years. In 2017, Adidas beat them as the most popular sneakers in the US. For the first time in a decade, Nike was not the number one sneakers brand.

The Nike brand has focused on widespread advertising and a dependence on brand loyalty for the last two decades when their brand ambassadors included the likes of Michael Jordan.

Thus the older demographics constantly promoted the swoosh by word of mouth and because of their love for the magic of individuals who they viewed as superstars.

This set of Nike die-hard loyalists are ageing and buying less sports apparel. The brand therefore needs a big hook to keep its market share.

That is, Nike needed to target the younger generations who, for the most part, include a social conscience and the global impact of the brands they buy into their reason for choosing one brand over another.

What better way for Nike to do this than to use the image of a man who has given a huge sacrifice, his career, to stand for a principle. It so happens that this man also looks like the projected future face of a typical American.

Risky but smart marketing is what Nike has undertaken. The people burning shoes and cutting off tags are but a short-term distraction which shall pass in a few days.

For those of us with no ball in the game it is a moment to learn of marketing brilliance and to potentially invest in the sliding stocks of a company that will rise again in the coming months if not weeks.

With the Nike stock closing as the top Dow loser on the first day of trading in September this is a potential blessing for smart investors unless something else major happens to completely change the direction of the Nike campaign with the face of Colin Kaepernick at the helm.

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