Marketing TechnologyDigital AdvertisingNike’s sales soar in light of Kaepernick controversy

Nike’s sales soar in light of Kaepernick controversy

Last Tuesday, Nike unveiled a fiery ad featuring a close up of Kaepernick with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The ad created a huge stir on social media, and many expected Nike sales to drop. Instead, new reports show they're up 31%.

Nike took a gamble on former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and it seems to have paid off to the tune of a 31% increase in sales, according to Edison Trends.

While early speculation suggested that the brand would take a hit for featuring Kaepernick in its 30th anniversary campaign, it appears that Nike actually came out on top after the risky move. Edison reports that after a post-Labor Day dip in sales, the brand rebounded to the tune of a 31% increase between Sunday and Tuesday following the announcement. The brand saw just a 17% increase in sales during the same time period the previous year.  

Campaign ignites social media buzz

Nike initially created a social media frenzy by unveiling a 30th anniversary campaign heavily focused on Kaepernick, who himself has been the center of controversy after kneeling on the field during the National Anthem in protest of police violence. Kaepernick claims to have been blacklisted by the NFL in response to his protest.  

The Nike campaign, unveiled Tuesday, September 4 on Kaepernick’s Twitter account features a close up of Kaepernick with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Backlash to the campaign was immediate, with Tweets featuring offended protesters cutting Nike slogans from their clothing and setting sneakers on fire going viral, drawing praise, ridicule, and even the attention of President Trump. Others, including Serena Williams and Lebron James, came out in support of Kaepernick and Nike, adding even more buzz to the campaign. Initially, it seemed as though all the Twitter feuding might hurt the brand since, in the wake of the post, Nike stock dropped 3.2%.

Nike brand mentions up 135%

But even though the campaign seemed to polarize the majority of its audience, simply causing a stir helped Nike gets its name in the news and draw attention to its 30th anniversary. According to social media analytics firm Talkwalker, the whole world was talking about Nike last week. The firm reports that brand mentions for Nike increased 135%, more than 2 million mentions and counting.

And though the original image posted by Kaepernick hinted at even more controversy to come, the longer ad, released the following Wednesday, seems to step back from the politics of the initial post. As Slate pointed out, for all the outrage around the Kaepernick image, the two-minute ad actually seems to ignore the original message, focusing on athletes who have overcome hardship and physical disability to become successful. The protests are ignored in favor of a montage featuring athletes in action, and Kaepernick himself is relegated to the role of narrator. Not only is Kaepernick not pictured kneeling, he’s not even pictured playing football. Instead of reiterating the initial message about the risk of protest, in the ad Kaepernick encourages viewers to ask if their dreams “Are crazy enough.”

Standing with Kaepernick makes financial sense for Nike

This isn’t the first time Nike has offered vague support to Kaepernick’s cause. Last year, in response to President Trump’s statements against the NFL, the brand issued a statement saying it “supports athletes and their right to freedom of expression on issues that are of great importance to our society.” Research suggests that standing with Kaepernick could make financial sense for Nike. According to a study conducted by CNN, the majority of Democrats, young Americans, and Black people say that the protests are “the right thing to do.” Support for the protests is low among Republicans and older people, who aren’t necessarily the brand’s target demographic in the first place.

Ad distracts from different Nike controversy

In late July, Nike was on the opposite side of a protest as students around the world, from Boston to Bangalore, marched to draw attention the brand’s use of sweatshop labor.

While Kaepernick may still be at odds with the NFL, Nike isn’t. The brand recently signed a contract with the league to extend its apparel contract through 2028.

What does this mean for marketers?

Nike took a bold stance and their sales spiked. Is that the new norm, or are they simply riding the wave of a current trend? Perhaps the time has come that brands need to be bold in order to be heard. While it seems too unfounded to say that this could be a green light for all brands to follow suit, it does seem that opinionated customer bases react well to strong opinions from brands.

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