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Nike’s controversial Kaepernick ad campaign pays off

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

Nike celebrated its 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign by airing a new ad featuring Colin Kaepernick on Sept. 3 during the 2018 NFL season kickoff.

Nike took a controversial, yet calculated risk by using the former San Francisco 49er’s quarterback, who spurred player protests in 2016, as the face of their campaign.

This risk was worth it, as Nike’s online sales increased 31% between Sept. 2 and 4, according to a study by Edison Trends, a digital commerce research company.

Kaepernick, who is known for protesting police brutality and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem, was met with heavy criticism on social media following the ad.

The hashtag #NikeBoycott was trending on Twitter soon after the ad aired, and many expressed their outrage by cutting the iconic swooshes off their socks and even burning expensive sneakers.

President Trump, a vocal critic of NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, weighed in on the debate, tweeting, “What was Nike thinking?”

While the ad campaign alienated some Trump supporters and political conservatives, its real target was young millennials, who are the main consumers of Nike products. Nike took a stance on an increasingly polarized issue and gained support from young consumers and minorities who side with Kaepernick.

The two-minute commercial, titled “Dream Crazy,” features other professional athletes, including tennis superstar Serena Williams and LeBron James, who have both used their platforms to advocate for the black community and social injustice.

“They all share the quality of being among the most inspirational athletes of their generation, who have leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” said Sandra Carreon-John, a spokesperson for Nike.

The commercial is set to air all week during NFL games as well as the U.S. Open and Major League Baseball games.

The NFL and Nike have been partners for years and recently extended an apparel deal through 2028, in which Nike supplies the league with game day uniforms and other apparel.

When asked if the new ad campaign was discussed with the NFL, Carreon-John responded, “Nike has a longstanding relationship with the NFL and works extensively with the league on all campaigns that use current NFL players and its marks. Colin is not currently employed by an NFL team and has no contractual obligation to the NFL.”

Kaepernick has been a free agent since 2016 and is suing the league for conspiring with owners to keep him off any NFL roster. But his protests have been carried on by other players, despite President Trump’s call for the suspension or firing of players who decide to kneel during the national anthem.

Kaepernick took to Twitter Sunday to thank Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins, who knelt during the national anthem before their season debut Sunday afternoon.

“My Brothers @kstills and @ithinkisee12 continue to show their unwavering strength by fighting for the oppressed! They have not backed down, even when attacked and intimidated. Their courage will move the world forward!… Love is at the root of our resistance!”

The words on the black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick echo the motivations of players who are risking their careers to stand up against racial inequality: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”



Editorial editor

Featured photo: Colin Kaepernick Twitter account image.

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