Colin Kaepernick: The Face of Sacrifice?

The success and failure of Nike’s recent ad campaign.


For someone who’s entire career is focused on marketing and advertising, I have to hand it to Nike and Colin Kaepernick’s PR people, they certainly put this one through the uprights. Although direct attribution is difficult to track for a campaign like this, enough “buzz” and earned media has generated an estimated $43 million dollars for Nike. (Bloomberg)

Not only have sales gone up, but Nike’s ad hits home for people in a deep and personal way, reinvigorating many and once again drawing attention to the racial injustices that Colin protests against.

Obviously, any time ad campaigns result in the desired outcomes they are considered wins for the companies behind them. When those same campaigns can motivate and inspire people to action beyond spending money, well that is just icing on the cake.

Breaking down the campaign success in simple terms, Nike and Kaepernick made a bundle of money and they both look great in the public eye for using their influence to draw attention to racial injustices.

One question to consider here: Shouldn’t Nike be applauded for standing up for injustice when it could result in a loss of customers or stock points?


On the other hand, this campaign landed flat on its face for many loyal Nike fans, inciting many to boycott Nike and/or destroy their own Nike products in protest.

From a business perspective, Nike can afford to cannibalize loyal customers in order to make a political statement and build greater relationships with a certain market segmentation they find either more profitable or more in line with their own political stance. Giving the middle finger to many long-time loyalists might be a privilege Nike can enjoy now, but Nike would never have made such a gamble back when it didn’t have such deep pockets.

For me, the real failure can be captured in three words: poor word choice. Specifically, the word “everything”. The problem with this very calculated and intentional word choice by Nike (or rather, it’s ad agency), is that it misrepresents Colin and elevates him to a status that he has not earned nor deserves. As if Colin’s actions place him amongst such great and honorable men and women like Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, Winston Churchill, Jackie Robinson, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and many others.

Yes, it is true that it took guts to do what he did and has required genuine sacrifice, which I recognize and respect, however, he has undoubtedly yet to reach the level of someone who has been willing to sacrifice “everything”.

Let’s break it down. Colin’s career was already on the down turn and he was bench warming, so he wasn’t really sacrificing much playing time. He also had a fat bank account to fall back on in case things went south, which they didn’t… In fact, he got a big money deal with Nike for signing on with them. So… Colin walks away with a bundle of money, still has his family and friends at his side, enjoys the many freedoms of an American citizen, and enjoys many other comforts, commodities, and privileges that most people can only dream of, and yet, here is Nike depicting him as the face of sacrifice…

What does that say about those who actually have sacrificed everything? What does it say about the sacrifice of those men and women of all races who have fought and died protecting the very freedom Colin exercises when kneeling on the field? What does it say about those who have lost loved ones, all their worldly possession, and even their very freedom while standing up for what they believe?

“Don’t be so literal”, one might say, or “don’t focus so much on the word choice and relish in the goodness of the message”, another might interject. The problem with all that is Nike chose each of those words with calculated precision and purpose. They wanted to create controversy, they wanted to generate buzz. They wanted to make money… And because of this, each one of those words should be weighed, measured and held accountable.

Don’t get me wrong, I actually love the message of being willing to sacrifice everything for what you believe in. To take a stand for something important to you, especially human rights and racial injustices. Nevertheless, I think the ad could have communicated the same message without belittling the sacrifices of those who truly know what it means to give up everything.

“Believe in something. Even if it means making sacrifices.”, would be more appropriate. Or, “Believe in something. Even if it is hard.” Endless options here.

One question to consider here: Is Nike really a noble organization fighting injustices or are they opportunistic capitalists using a racially charged political scenario to boost sales and put themselves in good favor with a profitable market segmentation?


In summary, Nike’s ad was a genius PR move and very well executed, however, it is also a misrepresentation that paints Colin Kaepernick in a false light. When you consider how much fame and fortune Kaepernick is benefiting from all this, putting him on the same playing field as some of history’s greatest heroes is simply bad form and poor taste.