Nike is laser focused on growing their brand. The day after they launched their 30th Anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, their stock fell 3.2%. The campaign, called Dream Crazy, showcased athletes such as Serena Williams, Lebron James, and Canada’s Alphonso Davies among various unknown athletes pushing their limits. The controversy surrounds lead narrator, football player Colin Kaepernick, in a sequence where he says, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything”. 

Ironic, Deliberate, Bold and Brave.

In our work to help brands grow, we sit in many creative presentations with polarizing results. You can imagine the argument at Nike to use only the big names and the heart string stories of unknowns vs the risk of being associated with the controversy surrounding Kaepernick. But that didn’t stop Nike because, to quote my colleague Jennifer Marley, “They have the confidence and conviction to live their brand purpose to its edge”.

We applaud NIke and bet that their stock price recovers after the next quarter sales. Here is why:

1. It was disruptive for a reason. Nike is focused on their differentiated brand purpose. The ad wasn’t appropriating or gratuitous. The earned media alone has arguably placed Nike top of mind, critical to beating formidable competitors like Under Armour, Adidas, and Lululemon.

2. They know their target: Gen Z and Millennials. America is divided, and choosing a side commands their respect.

  1. Younger consumers expect more and reward reciprocity; 72% of Gen Z pay more for a product dedicated to social issues.
  2. The Kaepernick issue is a political one. Nike can afford to alienate the Trump base in favour of younger and higher income groups.

3. They know their other target: Top athletes who want to sign a deal with a brand they respect.

4. It secured brand relevance. Nike means ‘goddess of victory’ which they parlay into inspiring success in all athletes (i.e., if you have a body, you are an athlete). “Just Do it” and “success” are highly personal, allowing Nike to extend beyond the sports field to represent social issues and thus secure timeless cultural relevance. 

5. Nike plays the long game. They have a history of creating opportunities and inspiring minority and marginalized groups (see Nike Hijab). It would have been hypocritical to not run the Kaepernick creative simply because the creative is polarizing.

We love that Nike has decades of controversy in their ads and that after all this time they still came out swinging (sorry, wrong sports analogy). A compelling brand purpose can keep bold ideas alive. 

My bet is the only thing they fear is playing safe.