It’s not a Crisis until it’s a Crisis – Nike Just Does It (for now)

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The recent buzz around the Nike brand and its decision to make Colin Kaepernick the face of its upcoming “Just Do It – Dream Crazy” campaign is a curious thing: it is either genius or foolhardy – deeply dependent upon a very subjective point-of-view by consumer and shareholder alike. See the full video ad at the bottom of this article.

The very fact that every major news outlet has covered the brand for the past forty-eight hours may lead one to believe the latter, but is it sustainable? With everyone from the President of the United States to the NFL to Nike competitors weighing in, the polarization potential of the campaign is an incredibly delicate thing to balance.

As detailed in a piece by CNBC:

“Kaepernick flew into the spotlight when he decided not to stand for the national anthem during a 2016 NFL preseason football game to protest racial injustice. He’s not currently signed with a National Football League team and has since charged the organization conspired to prevent him from getting signed to a team when he became a free agent.

Despite Kaepernick’s appearance in the new Nike commercial released on Wednesday, it isn’t overtly political. It makes no reference to “taking a knee.” Instead, it sticks to the inspirational tone that Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign is famous for.

Kaepernick, the narrator in the video, starts by saying: “If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do … good, stay that way, because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult, it’s a compliment.”

Comments have flooded the internet since the campaign featuring Kaepernick was announced earlier this week. Some industry analysts expect Nike to win over consumers who are more sympathetic to Kaepernick’s cause. However, there have been numerous images of people burning their Nike shoes posted to Twitter, along with pledges to never buy Nike products again.

“When you are an extraordinary brand you are going to be polarizing,” Allen Adamson, brand expert and co-founder of marketing solutions business Metaforce, told CNBC. “There’s going to be some short-term bumpiness because of this campaign, but the best brands need to manage for the long term.”

I put the “long-term” question to two of my colleagues at Firestorm:

Hart Brown, COO and President of the Firestorm Insurance and Government divisions believes the question is really one of brand value, reputational value and revenue.

“This advertising campaign is very much a calculated exercise and realizing it is on a global scale can become lost to some. The company sought a hook that it could monetize in the short term, in the long term, in the US market and in the global marketplace.”

Hart contends that considering that the figure chosen – Kaepernick – was potentially polarizing in the US, but recognizable worldwide, created the need to anticipate, forecast and establish contingency plans if needed.

Jim Satterfield, Firestorm CEO agrees and goes a step further: Jim wants all organizations to ask themselves ‘Why?’ at least five times before communicating during peacetime or crisis. Jim believes the simplest breakdown for any team charged with communicating is by thinking through the decisions we make, actions we take, and words we say.

To complement this Decisions, Actions, Words approach, Hart adds the following to the list of items the brand should have, and most likely did, consider. As Satterfield adds, it’s not enough to simply ask the question, but to also clarify the “Why” of it:

  • Does this align with corporate values? Why?
  • Does this align with global values? Why?
  • Could this increase notoriety and increase sales in the US? Why?
  • Will this create an increase in overseas sales, which are fast growing markets? Why?
  • Can any potential downside in the US be compensated for overseas? Why?

To-date, the conversation around the campaign has been exceptionally active garnering millions of mentions and potential advertising impressions: the key is to monetize the buzz. Can Nike just do it?

Brown concludes that the answer in the view of the company was, “yes”.

“The initial result in the stock market was a small drop in price (3.2%) and rebounded the following day. From a fiduciary standpoint, the initial shock and reactionary stock drop has been controlled so far. Provided that the campaign fits within the corporate values, the early responses from the company can become positive and reduce the potential for a reactionary and secondary crisis. It will take 2-4 weeks to really see if there is any lingering effect on the company, however a turn in the stock within 24 hours is a positive sign. In addition, the overall media sentiment has been positive, and the buzz resulted in tens of millions worth of free advertising.

A recent WSJ article summed it up well: “Now Nike faces questions on two fronts: whether its reinvigorated partnership with one of the most controversial figures in sports will prove fruitful; and how this move will affect its relationship with the NFL. While Nike is one of the NFL’s biggest partners with a reported billion-dollar deal that was extended in the spring, the league is engaged in a high-profile legal battle with Mr. Kaepernick, who has filed a grievance alleging that he has been effectively blackballed from signing with a team because of his political views.”

Risky?  Possibly. Nike has however, never shied away from risk. But then, neither have their competitors – remember the infamous 1990 empty shoe Reebok ad? Still one of my favorites. Additionally, and according to a report from Charles Robinson at Yahoo Sports, Adidas and Puma were among the brands that were also interested in signing Kaepernick.

The bottom-line however, speaks volumes:  Money reports that the buzz surrounding Kaepernick’s Nike ad amounted to $43 million worth of media exposure in only twenty-four hours. The Apex Marketing Group, which made the estimate, also said that most of the buzz ranged from neutral to positive in support of the Nike-Kaepernick partnership. It will be an interesting season.

Decide for yourself – the ad is below.

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