Old Fashioned Marketing and Branding says Nike made a big mistake with the Kaepernick Ad Campaign
I may be old school, but I have to disagree with some of the marketing and advertising thought leaders out there praising Nike’s recent new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. And maybe I’m off base and wrong about this, but only time and the good old American capitalism will tell. People will either increase spending with Nike or, they won’t. My guess at this point is that Americans who elected Donald Trump are furious with both the NFL and now Nike for spitting in the faces of those who actually do make sacrifices for America. Widows of fallen soldiers are coming out in force to tell Nike what real sacrifice means—the ultimate sacrifice, none of which people like Colin Kaepernick will ever know.
The problem that Nike has—as I see it—runs deeper than a bad advertising move. The underlying rebellion that is taking place in politics is creeping across the C-suites in American businesses. And that’s probably alright as long as corporate profits are up. But what happens when they aren’t? How long does it take for a business like the NFL to bleed out and die a slow death? Are politics and social issues worth it? Is it really about the right of “expression to protest” something or is it underlying anger that Trump is the President? And why would Nike select a has been, unemployed, controversial ex-quarterback for it’s “face?” Why not pick someone else more successful, less controversial and more performance based? Why deliberately pick someone whom you already know half (at least) of Americans despise?
Nike has a right to express itself the way it wants to. That’s American. The NFL has a right to kneel during the National Anthem. Freedom of speech and expression is what America is all about. What is wrong about it all is that those brands who choose to disrespect the flag (in the name of some protest) are also choosing to offend millions of patriotic Americans (customers) who love our flag. As a business, there is a time and place for everything and a strategy behind it. Maybe some of these brands need to hire some conservative branding people to help them think it all the way through. Americans are passionate about patriotism. Brands need to look no further than how America came together after 9/11.
But I think there is even more to it. This tide of double standards we are seeing in politics (on both sides), the resistance and obstructionists of taxpayer paid elected officials and the growing disgust by Americans is surely driving some brands to make some “bet the company” decisions. I don’t know if Nike’s latest move is “bet the company” or not but I think it is certainly the most radical move I have seen any brand make in my career. I am really trying hard to be objective and understand their motives, but honestly, I think it just boils down to one thing: Trump hate. I think Nike made this move to try and appeal to those out there who hate Trump so much that they’d flock to Nike’s side. Just do it. Just be rebellious. Just be controversial. A tagline that once had value for all types of people is now tarnished in controversy. If a brand sells it’s products to the masses, why would they want to alienate 50% of their customer base? I have asked myself this question each time I see a brand draw the line on something political or social.
Remember when Target announced that men could go into women’s bathrooms? History will show that controversy is usually not a winner for brands. Remember when Coca-Cola tried “new coke?” It didn’t work. There are, however, some examples of others that did work. Chick-Fil-A is one of the brands that can well manage controversy while standing by their conservative, Christian values. Not only does Chick-fil-A stand behind their values but their profits soar. Americans are patriotic. True Americans love our flag. The heart of America represents old-fashioned values like “In God we Trust” and those upon which our Constitution was written. Americans don’t want rebellious brands that insult these values (which is what Nike has done). To me it is common sense: don’t piss in the wind (to borrow a crass saying). Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Don’t make half of your customer base mad.
It will be interesting to watch Nike stock and earnings. I wonder what the board members and major stockholders are saying about it. What do you think?