There are powerful and important lessons to be learnt from Nike’s association with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Not least because Kaepernick is a divisive figure.
To some he’s a hero, to others he’s unpatriotic. Why? Because leading NFL player protests against racial injustice and police brutality by kneeling during the playing of the national anthem is a strong, visual statement to make. Nike’s adoption of Kaepernick as a brand spokesperson was therefore always going to be controversial. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” is also a big statement for the company to make.
So, firstly, can we lay to rest any talk of advertising’s demise. If advertising is dead, how did a print ad from Nike make global news? Why did the company’s stock price fall and then rise again? Why did Nike’s online sales increase by 31 percent?
People were burning Nike’s products for goodness sake. Don’t tell me advertising is ineffective or irrelevant. Nike’s adoption of Kaepernick as a brand spokesperson proves the absolute opposite.
Consumers expect brands to reflect their ideas and principles. They want them to make a difference
Secondly, if you’re going to stand for something, you can’t do it half-heartedly. You’ve got to be fully committed.
When Nike was faced with a significant backlash, it dug in, stood its ground, and refused to budge. That’s commitment to a cause. The company even produced a self-help guide for those wishing to burn its products safely. That takes courage. It also shamed those brands that have jumped on the cause marketing bandwagon with little follow-through or determination.
Thirdly, bravery is essential. Despite the potential for rebuke, it’s okay to be controversial, to push the boundaries, to change the rules of the game.
It’s okay for brands to stand for something, to have a higher purpose. Consumers expect it. They want brands to reflect their ideas and principles. They want them to make a difference to the societies in which they live.
It is bravery perhaps more than anything else that we all need to nurture. How do we remove trepidation and instil a sense of fearlessness in brands?
We shouldn’t be discussing whether advertising works or not, or whether brands should make a stand for causes they believe in. We should be discussing how, as a region, we can create such standout work. How we can push the boundaries further so that more of our campaigns are talked about globally and shape our culture on an increasingly positive basis.
I believe Nike has shown us the way. Believe in something, push on through, take the heat. Because only then will you reap the benefits and take your place in culture.
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