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On 30th Anniversary of 'Just Do It,' Nike Puts Kaepernick Where Its Mouth Is

Image credit: Nike/Twitter

Nike’s 30th anniversary edition of its iconic “Just Do It” campaign, released this week, features embattled football star Colin Kaepernick, in a move practically designed to stir up controversy — but which ultimately aligns perfectly with Nike’s ethos of living courageously.

The ad features Kaepernick’s narration over a collage of stars such as LeBron James and Serena Williams, interspersed with athletes of all ages, sizes, shapes and potential disadvantages — many of whom would appear to have traditional odds of physical excellence stacked against them. All are the living embodiment of Nike’s mantra to “Just Do It,” including Kaepernick, who urges viewers to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Given Kaepernick’s polarizing presence, the ad has of course ignited a firestorm on social media — garnering derision from the usual suspects and being called “genius” by others.

And as with any prominent brand that takes a stand on a controversial issue, there’s risk of short-term volatility — Nike’s stock apparently fell 2 percent since the ad was released on Monday. Allen Adamson, brand expert and co-founder of marketing solutions business Metaforce, told CNBC: "When you are an extraordinary brand, you are going to be polarizing. There's going to be some short-term bumpiness because of this campaign, but the best brands need to manage for the long term."

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Looks like Nike is doing more than manage — the company's online sales actually grew 31 percent from the Sunday of Labor Day weekend through Tuesday, as compared with a 17 percent gain recorded for the same time last year, according to Edison Trends.

Courageous brands don’t shy away from potentially ruffling a few feathers to stand for issues that align with their values — a trend we’re seeing more of in today’s divisive social/political climate. As Christopher Miller, Activism Manager for socially outspoken brand Ben & Jerry’s told the crowd at SB’18 Vancouver in June, “It’s better to be deeply loved by some than to be tolerated by many. … We don’t do CSR based on who our customers are or what they care about; we follow our own purpose and values and hope it will resonate with others.”

And recent consumer research supports this approach: According to a recent survey by Shelton Group, 64 percent of those who said it’s “extremely important” for a company to take an authentic, brand-aligned stand on a social issue said they were “very likely” to purchase a product based on that commitment. And non-profit consultancy DoSomething Strategic found that 76 percent of Gen Z — on deck behind Millennials as the biggest and most values-driven consumer demographic — has purchased or is open to purchasing a brand or product to support the issues that brand stands for; while more than 67 percent have stopped supporting or would consider doing so if a company behaved in a way that didn’t align with their values.

Since these two highly influential groups are putting their money where their values are — and just recently named Nike one of their most trusted brands — aligning itself with Kaepernick and everything he stands for is likely to score Nike even more points in the long run.

Jennifer Elks is Managing Editor at Sustainable Brands. She is a writer, editor and foodie who is passionate about improving food systems, closing loops and creating more livable cities. She loves cooking, wine, cooking with wine, correcting spelling errors in… [Read more about Jennifer Elks]

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