What was Nike Thinking? A thought from the other side of the pond

Let’s rewind. Let’s head back in time to 1966. It was a period that shares many commonalities with today. England had a good World Cup (they actually won it!), the world was riddled with political strife, great social change was underway, the younger generations were becoming increasingly politically active and, in the US, people were burning products from possibly the biggest b(r)and of the day.

When John Lennon remarked that The Beatles were more popular than Jesus, it sparked a furor that had barely been seen before. Records and merchandise were being burned on communal bonfires, people even bought Beatles stuff to burn?! John really knew how to rapidly boost sales.

Now, 52 years later, nothing seems to have changed…

When Nike chose Colin Kaepernick to front their latest campaign, they knew exactly the sort of response it would foster. With methods that hark back to the halcyon days of the 1960’s, those offended at Nike’s choice of frontman have started burning Nike products, ripping the logos from their clothing… As Jimmy Kimmel explained so eloquently on his show ‘Why not just burn your money? You already bought the clothes’.

But why would one of America’s most famous brands decide to run the risk of damaging their brand, losing market share and feeling the pinch on their bottom line? Honestly, it’s down to insights.

In the UK, this story has really hit the headlines and perhaps my most favorite comment is from Marina Hyde, columnist for the Guardian newspaper; “Nike’s market research department is larger and more sophisticated than the second Death Star, and if their cost-benefit analysis judges Kaepernick the one to back in a fight where the other side includes the US president, then frankly: I’ll take it, No, I don’t need the box. I’m wearing it out of the shop”.

Aside from the hyperbole, she hits on a point. Nike backs winners and would only have made this decision if it was in their interests to do so. Whilst they risk offending a subsection of US society, their brand spans the globe. The all-American Nike brand is no more. Nike is a world brand and is more than capable of withstanding a short-term rebuttal in one market when it’s quite possible that their stance will make gains globally. In the same way that tech firms have stood up to Trump’s abandonment of the Paris Climate accord, these mega-brands are bigger than the country they were born in. They now belong to the world. With good insights, an excellent knowledge of their consumers and dare I say it, some balls; these brands no longer worry about the nation they grew in, they have the global power base to go in the direction they want to, not what politicians or sections of society dictate.

Having said that, it’s plain that Nike hasn’t done this solely to make a moral stance. Big corporations make decisions that benefit them, not to make social points. Yet thanks to insight, they know that they can make a stance in these conflicting times, and still make a buck out of it.

But maybe there’s a more fundamental reason for Nike’s choice, that truly is all-American. Colin Kaepernick used his right to protest in a peaceful manner. Those of us on this side of the pond certainly view America as a country born out of protest, after all, you kicked my ancestors out because you didn’t like the tea tax policy.


Adam Camm is an avid sports fan—of the British variety, as in Cricket and ‘real’ football; and an arts and music enthusiast. Adam’s day job is Marketing Manager at FocusVision.

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