Nike’s Colin Kaepernick Ad — Genius or Brand Damaging

Sunil Sharma
Sep 11, 2018 · 5 min read

“You are remembered for the rules you break.”

Over the past few days we have all seen the aftermath of Nike’s advert starring Colin Kaepernick who is seen an Icon to many and also a villain to many. How much of an impact will this have on one of the largest brands in the world? Was this a genius marketing ploy from Nike? Should politics have been mixed with business? There are so many unanswered questions.


Colin Kaepernick is an American football quarterback who had a successful career but rose to fame due to his political actions on the field. In 2016, he decided to sit during the US National anthem instead of traditionally standing up. After the game, he explained, “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder”, referencing a number of events that led to the Black Lives Matter movement. He stated he would continue to protest until he feels like “the American flag represents what it’s supposed to represent”.

During the fourth preseason game, Kaepernick decided to take a knee during the anthem to show more respect to those serving in the military.

His decision to kneel attracted a number of criticisms as well as adulation from many. He was being seen as a huge icon in particularly with the Black Lives Matter movement and his shirt very quickly became the fastest selling jersey. On the other side, he attracted heavy criticism with thousands of people burning his jersey as they saw his actions as an attack on the United States of America’s constitution. Colin Kaepernick became one of the biggest polarizing figures in sporting history.

Brand Damaging

Many people (largely in USA) have been spotted burning Nike products or cutting their famous logo.

Before the advertisement had even aired, a survey suggested that 24 percent of consumers now viewed the Nike brand as unfavourable which was a huge increase from 7 percent prior to Colin becoming the face of the new marketing campaign, according to Morning Consult.

Last Tuesday by midday, shares of Nike fell by nearly 3% with #NikeBoycott being one of the trending topics on Twitter. Managing director of GlobalData Retail, Neil Saunders stated that the advertisement could ultimately alienate customers and turn them to rival products.

Nike’s rivals Adidas shares were up by more than 20% whilst Under Armour’s stock increased by a further 40% since the ad had been aired.

After the advert was released, Nike’s favorability rating had dropped from 69% to 35% according to Morning Consult. Furthermore, according to the federalist, Americans have stated they are now 10% less likely to purchase Nike products.

Donald Trump voiced his opinion on twitter.

“Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!”

The NFL suffered a huge ratings drop following more players taking a knee to the American flag.


Vice president of the Nike brand for North America Gino Fisanotti, said Kaepernick was “one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation. He has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.”

According to Bloomberg, after Colin Kaepernick revealed the advert on Twitter, in less than 24 hours Nike received more than $43million worth of media exposure with the vast majority being neutral to positive.

It is clear to see that Nike are playing a long term game rather than a short one.

Under 35s are known to pay attention to when brands stand up for cause so they will pay attention to brands who stand up for movements such as #alllivesmater #blacklivesmatter They may have lost a number of older, conservative Americans but researchers show that it is younger generations who tend to buy a lot more trainers and sneakers. Nike’s online sales have risen by 31 percent since Colin Kaepernick was announced as the face of the 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.

Nike worked out that 60 percent of its full-year revenue is actually generated outside of North America and the majority of the world does not believe America are dealing with there race issues well. Most Nike customers tend to be under 40 years old and are usually more progressive minded. It is important noting the demographic shifts which will make the millennials segment vital to Nike. In 2019, Millennials (people born from 1981 to 1996) are set to surpass the generation of baby boomers (people born from 1946 to 1964) for the first time. 44% of this group will be of colour in USA. Furthermore, Generation Z (people born from mid 1990s to mid 2000s) are 48% non-white , with more than 50% of children under the age of 10 being of colour.

Nike will know these statistics and will look to target these segments as generally speaking they tend to be more inclined to view Colin Kaepernick positively rather than the current 38% that have expressed negativity towards the advertisement.

Let everyone else call your idea crazy… just keep going. Don’t stop.

Nike at the end of 2017 announced that they would be focusing on 12 cities — Los Angeles, New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul, Milan, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Mexico City. They stated that from the end of 2017 to 2020 they would expect 80% of its growth from these cities.

The cities named are very unlikely areas in which the MAGA hats would be worn or people fighting against the Black Lives Matter movement. Shortly following the 2016 election, 70% of New Yorkers held a negative view of the president with Los Angeles sharing a similar opinion.

In Phil Knight’s book Shoe Dog, there is an interesting piece of writing.

“Like my friends I wanted to be successful. Unlike my friends I did not know what that meant…I had an aching sense that our time is short, shorter than we ever know, short as a morning run, and I wanted mine to be meaningful. And purposeful. And creative. And important. And above all different.”

It is seems evident Nike have reverted back to this ethos. The new Nike advert falls completely in line with the origin story of it being a rebellious underdog taking on sporting giants such as Adidas.

Nike has shown like many other brands that you can’t win with products alone. The difference maker is now the brand. Brands can’t buy consumer relationships but through the right actions they earn it. The Colin Kaepernick Ad goes beyond it’s adverts for Michael Jordan who stayed away from the political scene. Whether you agree or disagree with the actions of Colin Kaepernick it was one of the boldest political statements made in sporting history. Nike have just returned to its founding philosophy and with Colin Kaepernick part of the brand, it may be the masterstroke that benefits Nike for many years to come.

Sunil Sharma

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Finance // Aarza Lyfe Foundation // Writer // Minimalist // Avid Reader 🌍 🌱