Nike gambles with Kaepernick campaign


Art by Kyung ah Kim

When it comes to Nike, what do you think of? Do you think of its iconic athletes such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams, or LeBron James? Does politics ever come to mind?

On September 4, 2018, the sportswear giant controversially decided to combine sports and politics just in time for its 30th annual launch of the “Just Do It” campaign. Headlining the campaign was former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Nike’s choice to include Kaepernick in this media campaign might significantly hurt the company.

Last year, Kaepernick and other African-American athletes made national news when they began to kneel during the national anthem causing mass controversy between fans and Kaepernick supporters. Some fans believe that these actions are disrespectful to the flag and to our country. However, Kaepernick supporters and the other kneeling athletes believe they are simply protesting police brutality and racial injustice. Kaepernick hasn’t played in the NFL for over a year now after he optioned out of his contract with San Francisco. Many experts believe that NFL teams don’t want Kaepernick because of his politics.

This is not the first time politics and major companies collided head to head. In November of last year, anti-Trump activists boycotted the brand New Balance. The boycott was based on a comment made by the company’s vice president of public affairs that backed President Trump’s view on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. Protesters burned anything with the New Balance logo, whether it was their running shoes or apparel. Luckily for New Balance, the boycott was forgotten within a few weeks. Nike may not be so lucky.

The decision to include Kaepernick in a huge marketing campaign was a poor choice by Nike. Immediately following the release of the Kaepernick commercial, Nike’s stock plummeted at a rapid pace. However, it has since recovered. Millions of citizens opposing Kaepernick’s behavior immediately criticized the company on social media. President Donald Trump has negatively responded to Nike on his Twitter, calling the company “unpatriotic.” Dozens of schools, municipalities and other institutions have since severed ties with Nike. The hashtag #boycottNike has been used thousands of times making it one of the most used hashtag since the marketing campaign was announced.

Nike and all publicly traded company’s first duty is to maximize shareholder value. Inserting themselves into a hot political and social issue drives away customers, which hurts shareholder value. Nike should have learned from other companies that paid the price for picking sides. A recent example was Target Stores who saw revenues and their stock price fall after announcing a total gender-neutral store restroom policy. If a company truly wants to maximize profits, they shouldn’t provoke millions of customers.

On the other hand, Nike’s Kaepernick commercial was smart in some aspects. It was fairly obvious that Nike’s ad campaign was oriented towards its biggest fan base, young millennials. Kaepernick and the other athletes that protested alongside him are well liked in the eyes of millennials and in the black community. The message gives Nike has an edge over it main competitors, such as Adidas and Under Armor, if you believe that all publicity is good publicity. Nike is taking a huge gamble that Kaepernick supporters will make up for the customers who walked away.

Overall, Nike’s move complex. It takes real guts for its executives to travel down a path that many have tried and failed. Only time can tell if this is going to be a flop or the start of something good for Nike.