A short summary of the controversy last fall: Nike branding featured Kaepernick in its 30th anniversary of “Just Do It” campaign, and created a national debate, for or against Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the National Anthem that he intended as protesting police brutality against blacks, while others interpreted his gesture as disrespectful to the American flag, or unpatriotic, or against law enforcement. Donald Trump took advantage of the issue with his reproval of Nike branding for the choice of Kaepernick, saying Nike’s selection of Kaepernick was a “terrible message and a message that shouldn’t be sent.”
Whichever side you were with last fall in the controversy of Nike’s Ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, back then some predicted that Nike’s profit may suffer after its shares fell slightly immediately afterward the ad campaign aired.
Three months later, the “verdict” came in – The World voted with their dollars: Nike had double-digits growth in profits in the three months after launching this ad campaign with Colin Kaepernick. The company’s stock rose 7.66 percent to $72.20 in after-hours trading in New York, as of December 21, 2018. According to reports, Nike’s fiscal second-quarter net income rose 10 percent to $847 million or jumped to 52 cents per share from 46 cents per share last year. As if that wasn’t enough, sales increased by 10 percent to $9.37 billion, topping expectations of $9.18 billion with the revenue increasing year over year by 14 percent to $8.9 billion. Sales in North America, which would theoretically be most impacted by this ad campaign, rose 9 percent in the quarter to $3.7 billion. Online sales jumped by 31%. (- “Nike reports double-digit profit growth after Colin Kaepernick controversy” by Joe Williams, December 20, 2018 04:48 PM, Washington Examiner.)
The increased sales may be caused by people with different motivations. Some may credit Nike’s profit growth to its marketing-prowess in taking a chance with the Kaepernick ad that paid off handsomely. It is hard to tell how many people bought Nike products out of their dislike for Trump’s comments, how many were expressing their support for Kaepernick, and how many were inspired by the actual messages in Nike’s ad. What is clear is that Nike branding, in staying true to its brand received the support of its customers in revenue and profits.
Let’s review this ad’s powerful messages that resonated with Nike’s believers, followers, and customers.
Over inspiring footage of performances by handicapped athletes and accomplished medalists, Kaepernick’s voice delivered these points: “… when people called your dream as ‘crazy’, it is not an insult but a complement.” “Don’t believe you have to be like anybody, to be somebody… Don’t plan to be the best basketball player on the Planet. Be bigger than basketball.” “Believe in something, even if that means sacrificing everything.” “Don’t ask if your dream is crazy, ask if it is crazy enough.” Towards the end, the screen displays these words, silently: “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it.”
I believe that Nike branding won people’s respect by adhering to the most important branding principle: Stand for Something. It takes guts to take a side in a controversy, and that inspires respect and trust, whether people are on your side or not. Back in September 2018 when it all just started, I wrote “Customer experience: A brand needs a heart and a soul, to move hearts and souls”. Back then nobody knew if Nike’s bold ad would hurt or help its bottom line. But everyone knew this – Nike branding was not playing safe. It was not trying to hide where it stood. It was not motivated by fear when it voiced its own opinions. It was not deterred by the risks, even though Nike might very well had weighed carefully the potential loss of certain buyers as the consequence of this ad. In showing its heart and soul, in the mere act of taking a side in a controversy, Nike unapologetically stood by what it believed in, and thus it displayed its power of character. It showed authenticity. And in so doing it inspired respect, awe, and trust.
Then it turned out that their bottom line just took care of itself.
Now we are talking about the power of a brand when it stands for something. The sneakers are the same sneakers. But people are not merely buying sneakers. They are inspired to buy SOME PART OF THEIR OWN DREAMS through Nike sneakers, Harley Davidson motorcycles, Apple computers….The power of association.
In this case the Nike brand became the phoenix out of the ashes of a controversy. It elevated itself above and beyond this controversy, since now people are buying the MESSAGE in the ad. The message is no longer confined to “which-side-you-are-on,” – it leads people to be inspired and empowered: “Don’t ask if your dream is crazy, ask if it is crazy enough.” “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it.”
Here are the true stories of two of my good friends, “Adam” and “Ben”, who were on the opposite sides of this controversy.
“Adam” – the ex-cop (white):
Adam devoted the best of his 25 years of life to protect and serve as a policeman. He is an old fashioned Reagan era Republican. To him, God, country, family are deeply held values. As one of the vast majority of the good cops, understandably he felt hurt by Nike’s endorsement of Kaepernick’s message against police brutality. He vowed never buying anything from Nike: “I gave my entire life to be a policeman. I am not a racist!”
His reaction was personal and visceral. I truly felt his pain.
“Ben” – a successful business coach (black):
Ben was trained in MIT as an engineer, and after years of working at large Silicon Valley corporations, he is a successful business coach, an outgoing, solid, warm, and intelligent man, about the same age as Adam. In this Kaepernick’s controversy, almost without a blink, he wholehearted sided with Kaepernick and Nike. The racial injustice in disproportionate incarceration of black people has deeply pained his heart over the years. Even more, Ben recognized that Nike was speaking directly to their target customers all around the world.
His reaction was personal and visceral. I truly felt his pain.
Yes, I truly felt both of their pains and vulnerabilities, and it is anything but cowardly for me to admit it. Feeling for different kinds of pains suffered by different people should not be mutually exclusive. Neither Adam nor Ben hid where they stood. They made their voices heard loud and clear. My respect for them was not diminished, because their characters meant more than which side they took.
Adam and Ben are both my beloved friends. It does not matter that we vote different political candidates, or see different facets of the same complex issue. They are genuine. They are authentic. They are imperfect, they are being themselves, and they have characters. They are their own brands. From that foundation grows respect, trust, understanding and love. Standing by one’s belief AND truth is the prerequisite.
We humans all live in a web of community where one strained fiber will be felt by the entire sheet. Any act of injustice, or perceived act of injustice, hurts all of us. In family relations, in any kinds of truly loving relationships, hurt is inevitable. Do we give up the relationship because we suffer hurts? The better choice is to forgive and carry on, and to reach a greater level of understanding, acceptance and respect for one another, and deeper level of love. We can become the “Phoenix” out of any “ashes” of controversy, conflict, and hurt.
“Character is Destiny.” – the title of this book says it all, by late Senator John McCain. This is what I believe: A spineless person would be all-things-to-all-men. A coward would be shying away from taking side. A trustworthy person will stand up for what s/he believes in. A great and wise soul would trust, respect, and love those who stand by their beliefs totally different from his/her own.
If only politicians stand by their beliefs and their constituent’s values, and at the same time trust and respect the “other side” who uphold theirs, then our nation will rise from the current destructive divide, and Washington can function out of our common love and duty for America.
I remember Congress and Senate stood side by side right after 9/11, literally shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity. Does it have to take a national tragedy to become one Phoenix out of the ashes? Respecting each other’s points of view does not diminish but enhances one’s own brand. Working together to advance the common interest of our country should be the ONLY purpose for Republicans and Democrats. That’s the very reason for the existence of each brand.
Stand by your brand, defend your values, even if it may offend others. But don’t stop here, for it is not the end, and there is a higher purpose. Dig deeper into your soul and heart, and find the common connections of humanity with others who disagree. Then there is no pain that is solely “theirs”, and there is no gain that is solely “ours”. It is all ours. Then your brand has realized its purpose for existence. “It’s only crazy until you do it. Just do it.”
Branding, communication consulting, and brand marketing, digitally and with social media or in print, is all we do at 10 PLus Brand. We craft your brand at its DNA™level, create your unique brand-messaging, and tell your stories, so your brand will inspire and empower your employees and your followers. Call for an initial consultation if you need to improving your communication, website or your LinkedIn profile, or refresh other aspects of your brand and messaging: 1-888-232-2288, visit our website: https://10plusbrand.com/, or email: info@10PlusBrand.com
Written and copyright by Joanne Tan, © 2019. All rights reserved.
Edited by Glenn Perkins.
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