Instead of backing down, Nike appears to be doubling down on its decision to make Colin Kaepernick a face of its “Just Do It” campaign, as he lends his voice to a TV ad that will play during the NFL’s regular season kick off game.
Though some criticized the decision to make Kaepernick part of Nike’s 30th anniversary celebration of its iconic slogan, Nike will be giving the controversial quarterback prime time exposure when it features him and his voice in a commercial during the Atlanta Falcons face off with the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.
Nike likely realized that it would take some heat for its decision to put a spotlight on Kaepernick, whose kneeling during the national anthem spurred a movement against police brutality and sparked a conversation about patriotism that roiled the nation.
But the move has also made the Nike brand top of mind, spurred consumers to rally around the company on social media, and will likely boost its popularity with younger consumers who want to patronize businesses that take a stand, rather than sit on the sidelines of hot button issues.
“We’re in an era where people are making big statements, there’s no nuance anymore,” says Bob Phibbs, CEO of New York-based consultancy the Retail Doctor. “If they were to pull the ad, it would look bad for the Nike brand and destroy the influencer market they’ve been building . . . Nike knows how to make a big statement and it works to their advantage.”
Indeed, research by YouGov, which tracks the perceptions of brands, found that while 34% of adults in the U.S. have a positive opinion of Kaepernick, 46% of shoppers who’ve bought Nike merchandise in the past three months have a positive view of the former San Francisco 49er. .
Nike’s customer base also appreciates activism. YouGov found that 78 percent of Nike shoppers said they like businesses to have a moral message as compared to 68 percent of the general public. Meanwhile 65 percent of the sneaker giant’s customers say they like it when brands are willing to dive into social issues, as compared to 45 percent of the U.S. that feels the same.
“They really do believe and understand their brand,” Rick Milenthal, CEO of the marketing firm The Shipyard said about Nike, “and they want to express the brand in a way that’s relevant to what’s going on today both in the news and the marketplace. . . You can’t really fake authenticity.”
The two-minute ad, dubbed “Dream Crazy,” is airing all week during sporting events, including the U.S. Open, Major League baseball games, and the NFL’s regular season opener on NBC Thursday, says Nike spokeswoman Sandra Carreon-John.
It features a voice over by Kaepernick, who appears along with various other athletes, such as LeBron James, Serena Williams and Shaquill Griffin, a former University of Central Florida linebacker with one hand who made the Seattle Seahawks’ roster last weekend.
“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, good,” Kaepernick says at the beginning of the commercial. “Stay that way because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult, it’s a compliment.”
Making the most of the connection with Kaepernick – who has not had an NFL home since 2016, and who has filed a complaint accusing the league’s owners of uniting to deny him employment – may also be part of Nike’s calculus, Milenthal says.
“Colin is not a long term play. He is not a Hall of Famer, not a first-tier athlete like (Michael) Jordan and (Tiger) Woods. His relevance is now,” Milenthal says. “So, absolutely, Nike should double down now on this ad while it matters . . . I think it is the right move.” (Charisse Jones)