U.S. Markets close in 4 hrs 43 mins

Think Tank: Lessons Learned From Nike’s Colin Kaepernick Campaign

Erich Joachimsthaler

We all have read about Nike using the athlete-turned-social activist Colin Kaepernick in its advertising campaign, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Two weeks after the announcement, we all know about its success. Online sales surged up to 31 percent the four-day period that followed. Media exposure payoff has been estimated to be at $163 million. While the stock dropped by 2.7 percent the following day, it recovered quickly and stands now at about $84, an all-time high for Nike.

So, the question is: Should you, Dear Marketer, consider a similar effort for your brand?

If you believe in surveys, the answer is yes. One study found that 86 percent of consumers believe companies should take a stand for social issues, and 64 percent of those consumers are very likely to purchase from a company that makes a pledge, according to the Shelton Group. Other studies confirm these findings.

I suggest you think twice before doing what Nike did. Here is why:

First, you are not Nike. Nike is a very special type of brand. At the core of its identity is a very powerful belief system of irreverence, authenticity and inspiration. Nike stands for authentic athletic performance. The brand worships athletes and makes the perceived bigger than life. A brand like Nike with such a brand identity has the permission with consumers to speak for social issues.

The Kaepernick advertising is also consistent with Nike’s past efforts. Do you remember the ad of the vomiting runner during the Atlanta Olympics? It read: “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of Atlanta.” “Do you know the four-letter word that tennis all-time great John McEnroe swears on?” That was another Nike ad.

Nike is also a very powerful company. It is by far the biggest global brand, and it has a dominating market position in the U.S. It deeply taps into American culture and connects with consumers. Unless you share similar brand strengths and unless your brand stands for activism, I would think again about following in Nike’s footsteps.

Second, opportunities like the Kaepernick advertising don’t come that often. One aspect is how clearly divided the issue is. The results of a range of polls show, 41 percent oppose the company’s choice of Kaepernick, while 37 percent support the move. The rest were unsure.

Because of this polarizing of opinions, there is an unusually large social media impact. It generates a conversation among the general public that many other opportunities don’t create

Nike benefits further because younger consumers, its target market, stand behind Nike and Kaepernick on this issue. Sixty-seven percent of consumers below 34 years of age approve, according to a Quinnipiac University survey. That’s the consumer that Nike targets. It does not matter whether older consumers disapprove. They are not the market.

Further, while Kaepernick might not be popular with everyone, he is still an athlete that has a very strong following. Kaepernick’s San Francisco 49er’s jersey has remained among the top 50 sellers the last two years.

In short, this opportunity is a gift for Nike, and unless you have a similar one in front of you, I’d think twice.

Third, it is hard to execute like Nike. There are few brands that execute advertising as well as Nike does. Their work starting with the original personality posters — do you remember: the lone runner and the empty road with the tag line: “There is no finish line” — to this latest campaign, Nike and its longtime advertising agency has been extremely good at executing consistently at very high quality.

It is hard to strike a conversation through media advertising these days. It is also expensive and in order to get the benefit like Nike does from this campaign, you got to have a lot of luck.

Fourth, your product is not about self-expression. Self-expressive benefits are those that tell others who you are. You are what you wear. Nike sells shoes and apparel and these products make a statement to others.

Because Nike is in this category, it is in a better position to leverage social issues to sell shoes. It is much harder if you are a marketer at Campbell’s Soup or Colgate-Palmolive.

That’s why I suggest thinking twice before raising a social issue as part of our marketing or branding efforts.

Erich Joachimsthaler is chief executive officer and founder of Vivaldi.

Related stories

Think Tank: How Heritage Brands Fuel Inventive Collaborations

Think Tank: Are You Maximizing Your Data's Value?

Think Tank: Influencer Marketing Goes Global

Get more from WWD: Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Newsletter