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Christopher Thompson's Closing the Deal: Nike's bold move is worth a discussion

By CHRISTOPHER THOMPSON
September 08. 2018 11:13PM
Former San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick appears as a face of Nike Inc. advertisement pictured on top of a building in San Francisco, Calif., Sept. 5, 2018. (REUTERS/Alexandria Sage)



Last week, Nike launched a new marketing campaign celebrating the 30-year anniversary of their famous "Just Do It" slogan. The new campaign features ads in various formats with famous athletes such as Serena Williams, Lebron James and Odell Beckham Jr.

Nike released the full video advertisement on You Tube (tinyurl.com/ycrl844v).

Nike's choice of Colin Kaepernick as one of those athletes is causing a major uproar and in many cases, disgust. Kaepernick was the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. In 2016, he became even more well known by kneeling on one knee during the national anthem and claiming he was protesting racial injustice and police brutality in the United States.

Kaepernick's anthem kneeling behavior enraged a lot of people and caused other players in the NFL to mimic him. The anthem kneeling turned into a major attraction prior to the start of each game. NFL TV ratings decreased nearly 10 percent from 2016 to 2017, due in large part to the disappointment many people have with players politicizing the national anthem and the NFL allowing the behavior to continue.

Another important fact related to Colin Kaepernick is that he became a free agent the year he started his anthem kneeling stunts. Since then, he has remained a free agent, and not one NFL team is willing to sign him, due to the controversy surrounding his behavior and beliefs.

Regardless of what you think of the athletes, the Nike video is very well done. The campaign launch has caused sales and marketing gurus to debate the effectiveness of the campaign and the risk associated with linking your company's messaging to that of someone as controversial as Colin Kaepernick. Some say the media exposure is so great, it outweighs the risks. Others argue that loyal Nike customers will turn away from the brand.

After the campaign kicked off, Nike's stock price dropped close to 3 percent. Of course you can't judge what happens in one day, and opinions from financial experts vary drastically. Regardless of what happens, the campaign has already had an enormous impact.

It's so extreme, that previously loyal Nike consumers are posting videos of themselves on social media setting their collection of Nike sneakers on fire to show how much they disagree with Nike's decision. There's no arguing, it's absolutely gone viral.

I love big moves like this. I love them because they provide an opportunity to debate and consider all aspects of the decision Nike made. We know there were plenty of very smart people involved in the decision, so something tells me it won't be a complete failure. We'll see.

Here are a few questions and points to discuss with people you know about Nike's decision.

Does it force people to choose?

Using myself as an example, I have always loved Nike. I love the brand, I love the quality, and Nike is the only sneaker brand I own. However, I also think protesting during our national anthem is offensive and unpatriotic. I don't believe professional sports is the place for it.

If I continue to buy and wear Nike products, does that mean I support people protesting during the national anthem and want to support a company that thinks that is OK? That is a question Nike is forcing consumers to answer.

Does controversy sell?

Nike's decision to put Colin Kaepernick in the spotlight is big news. And it's received a lot of press. Will the decision rally a segment of consumers Nike didn't previously have? Will it cause more new customers to become brand loyalists or will the amount of Nike fans that run for the hills crush the company's reputation and future. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

Will this be a trend?

Will Nike's bold move cause other companies to consider provocative ideas to market themselves? Where is the line? What type of controversial individual would potentially be a good fit for your company? It's interesting to think that these were actual discussions at Nike. And associating Colin Kaepernick with the slogan, "Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything," is about as aligned with a corporate message as it gets.

It's brilliant messaging. But is it right for the Nike brand? We as consumers, will collectively decide that.

Christopher Thompson (chris.thompson@talientaction.com) is the vice president of business development at Talient Action Group in Manchester and writes "Closing the Deal" weekly.


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