Nike Courts Controversy Once Again
Nike’s decision to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their latest advertising campaign is proving to be a divisive one, but it has certainly got people talking.
The quarterback has been a figure of controversy since he and other American football players began to kneel rather than stand during the national anthem in 2016. His move was in protest at police brutality against black Americans, but it was viewed by some as unpatriotic. Kaepernick has been strongly criticised by Donald Trump for his actions, and now Nike is on the receiving end of Trump’s wrath. Meanwhile, the NFL has failed to employ the talented player and Nike appears to be taking a swipe at the NFL on this, with the sponsorship slogan for Kaepernick being: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
Whilst the sponsorship of Kaepernick promotes a social issue, it is also a very astute move commercially by Nike. Despite reports that some people are burning their footwear in protest, the campaign has gained a huge amount of media coverage for the brand.
Nike has never chosen to shy away from controversy. Back in the 1990s, when HIV, AIDS and even openly being gay were still subjects avoided by most companies, Nike’s decision to sponsor Ric Munoz, an openly gay and HIV positive runner, was a highly contentious one.
Earlier still, in the 1980s, Nike brought fresh thinking to sportswear advertising with its campaign featuring Walter Stack, a man who was still running in his 80s. This was followed by Nike’s sponsorship of the Paralympian Craig Blanchette, at a time when sporting events for the disabled did not have the high profile they have come to enjoy in recent years.
Nike has also taken a stand on gender equality, promoting female empowerment with their If You Let Me Play campaign. A few years later the Voices campaign again adopted the theme of encouraging more girls into organised sport, citing the many benefits to be had.
Although it wasn’t a social issue, Nike made a bold move in sponsoring NBA star Charles Barkley, who was as famous for his off-court fights as for his on-court successes.
If Nike wants its brand to be associated with, fearlessness, social justice and a willingness to challenge the status quo, then they are going about it the right way.