Brand standing: Brands taking a stand on their values

Brand standing: Brands taking a stand on their values

Woke [slang, adjective]: to be aware of issues concerning social and racial justice

From looking at past brand campaign backlash, it might look like Nike has some serious damage control to do.

The brand’s newest ‘Just Do It’ campaign featuring controversial quarterback Colin ‘Kap’ Kaepernick has resulted in an avalanche of consumers – mostly US-based – destroying Nike merchandise publicly in a show of anger at its choice of poster boy.

In 2016, Kap started a movement among athletes by taking a knee during the US national anthem at NFL games in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. His symbolic protest was interpreted by some as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the country, its government and its military veterans.

What’s noteworthy is that Nike is one of the few major brands in recent history to take a stand of this scale on a deeply divisive and controversial social issue.

The campaign’s flagship ad – a calm Kaepernick gazing intensely into the camera, with the words ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.’ emblazoned across his face – speaks volumes about how the movement to ‘stay woke’ is taking over the way brands communicate their values.

To be clear, this isn’t about brands supporting feel-good social causes. It’s about taking a stand when taking a stand and might even be alienating to a brand’s supporters. What’s particularly interesting is that in March this year the NFL and Nike agreed to an extended 8-year sponsorship for the league’s uniform and sideline apparel – but this campaign takes aim at the NFL’s displeasure with Kap’s role in starting the protest movement.

The cynic in us might peg the provocative campaign as being just another way to whip up media coverage for Nike – and it certainly could be. But fear of alienating consumers has typically kept brands well away from planting a flag when it comes to deeply heated moral issues. Nike’s campaign is the next step in the movement for brands to be more ‘woke’ or aware of social justice issues and clearly stand up for their brand purpose.

Despite the fallout, the brand’s sales figures certainly aren’t suffering. Nike has seen a rise of 31% in sales across the US’ recent Labour Day weekend, compared to 17% in the same period last year.

Watch this space.