CONTROVERSY: Why the average Colin Kaepernick Nike ad is actually highly effective

Estimated read time: 4 minutes


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Let’s start at the beginning: Colin Kaepernick is the football player who started kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of racial injustice which created a controversy a few years ago and continues to do around the NFL today and from the White House.

Now – right as the 2018 NFL season is kicking off- shoe (and athletic wear) powerhouse Nike has launched an ad campaign that includes him.

People took to social media to share their opinions, some burned their Nike gear, others took to Google to search for Nike.

You can view the commercial in this New York Times article.



Of course, as a digital marketer I wondered how online searches were looking so I went to Google Trends to compare Nike, Reebook, Adidas.

As you can see searches in the United States were slightly higher for Nike to begin with and then the ad announcement dropped:

As you can see Nike (blue line) is owning the search market in this set of competitors. All kinds of people were searching for them and really only them because Adidas and Reebok are just that line at the bottom.

They also got a ton of earned media coverage. It’s seemed there was coast-to-coast coverage in traditional media outlets.

Nike coverage from interiors + sources:

Look Inside Nike’s First Digitally Led Retail Store in LA

Will the ad get me to buy more Nike shoes or burn them? I just bought some the other day-do I dare call them shoe porn? I definitely won’t burn them and I likely will buy more when I need new shoes.

In an advertising world where brands are after market share, top-of-mind awareness and sales of course, this ad seemed to work. All kinds of people are talking about it! How many ads can say that? Not the ones we fast forward through on our DVR. Of course, I don’t have access to Nike sales numbers. A few days after I initially published this Nike reported a double-digit increase in sales.

If there wasn’t all this coverage about the ad I probably would have never watched it all the way to when Kaepernick actually is shown. It was a fine ad but it would not have kept my attention had I not known or was looking for his appearance.

My favorite customer service co-author Kelsey Guetschow is a veteran and offered another side to the story to include here:

As a veteran and patriot I’ve been asked if the NFL protest of kneeling during the national anthem bothers me.

It doesn’t. We have incredibly rampant racial prejudice in our country and I understand how this act has been used as a vehicle to raise awareness to the issue.

In fact, the ability and freedom to protest is exactly why I’m proud to be an American and of the freedoms our service members’ sacrifice affords our citizens.

One of my favorite quotes I memorized during my Air Force time that perfectly explains… “It is the soldier, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.

It is the soldier, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.It is the soldier, not the campus organizer, who has given us the freedom to demonstrate.

It is the soldier, who salutes the flag, who serves beneath the flag, and whose coffin is draped by the flag, who allows the protester to burn the flag.” – Father Dennis Edward O’Brien, USMC.

Yet when the Nike campaign published this week the slogan immediately disappointed me. I served in Afghanistan and participated in services for deceased US service members.

I have lost friends, I have lost colleagues. I have seen first hand what “sacrificing everything” actually looks like.

In Kaepernick’s case, Sacrificing some of your career, popularity, is not “sacrificing everything.” The association with the anthem protests and the campaign made this campaign too close to veterans, assuming the affiliation with the flag. It’s insulting to those who know the meaning of “sacrificing everything” for their country to insinuate that staging a peaceful protest, during an athletic event, in a generally safe/peaceful country, is anything remotely compared to the ultimate sacrifice men and women (and their families) who have served their country have made.

Certainly it is a controversy out there and I also don’t want to go down the cliché of saying that all publicly is good publicity but the goal of an ad is to raise a brand’s awareness and Nike certainly got awareness with this one.



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