Nike, Where Are You Going With Your #JustDoIt Marketing Campaign?

With Colin Kaepernick being the face of #JustDoIt, Nike stock is at a record high. Unlike most corporations desperate to stay out of the highly partisan political environment, Nike went all-in. In response, President Trump tweeted “What was Nike thinking?”

With Colin Kaepernick being the face of #JustDoIt, Nike stock is at a record high. Unlike most corporations desperate to stay out of the highly partisan political environment, Nike went all-in. In response, President Trump tweeted “What was Nike thinking?”

One answer is that Nike was thinking Kaepernick was standing up for what he believed in and that it was in-line with Nike’s own beliefs. However, that answer seems a bit naïve if you know anything about well-managed brands.

Since this latest #JustDoIt campaign, the Internet’s been flooded with conspiracy theories. I thought I would provide three theories on what Nike was really thinking.

Theory One

Nike is reading the tealeaves and is positioning itself accordingly. A high-value brand like Nike does its consumer research and its leaders evidently believe that history will be on the side of Colin Kaepernick.

Sure, Nike has taken risks before, when it launched campaigns to support causes such as gender equality or fighting ageism. While avant-garde, the campaigns did not have anywhere as much political heat as the NFL “taking a knee” controversy does. Even for Nike, this was bold and a decision like this would certainly have been backed by exhaustive research. In the end, Nike is not taking sides on the full political war, but it is on this one important issue.

Theory Two

Nike is planning to play both sides of the divide. The next campaign might involve a conservative talking point. Maybe the larger message of the campaign is that the country should be a bit less vitriolic about opposite viewpoints or that we all share a love of sports.

Admittedly, this is a long-shot theory, but one I find more digestible vs. a future where the labels on our shirts or shoes lump us in with one faction or another, which takes us to Theory Three.

Theory Three

Nike decided to fire a segment of customers (avid Trump supporters) because picking a political side is more profitable.

I have seen many companies hesitate to fire any customer. If they do, it is usually at an individual level, based on specific behaviors; such as frequently returning merchandise or driving losses in some other way.

In the rare cases where companies have guts to fire whole segments, it is usually done by simply ignoring the segment — not poking them, like this #JustDoIt campaign.

In the case of Nike, they vocally picked a political side. When other brands have been pushed into politically partisan positions by their founders, such as L.L.Bean, Under Armour and Chick-fil-A, they have quickly tried to claw back to neutral ground, claiming that the founder’s position was personal and not reflective of the brand’s.

Because this is a branded campaign featuring Kaepernick, Nike has no cover of plausible deniability. Nike unambiguously chose a political side and has so far been successful.

In the End Zone

Based on this, we may see more brands pick political sides. In the future, there may be even more politically aligned brand,s but I certainly hope that is not where we are headed.

Many of us in business try to keep our personal politics out of business. This has left our professional lives as a place where we all can find some sorely needed common ground. Yes, there are issues in every generation that prick our conscience enough to force our hand, business etiquette be damned. Those rare issues aside, for those of us who don’t want our opinions spoon-fed to us by political parties or talking heads, highly political brands are a very dystopian future.

Among the three theories I presented, I hope the third one is very wrong.

Disruption Drives the NFL to Gamble — Or How to Kill a Sacred Cow in 3 Easy Steps

A couple weeks ago, the NFL discussed gambling and the game. … No, not the impact gambling could have on the game. Actual gambling as part of the NFL — from your seat, at the game or in your home, every Sunday. Why would they do that? Disruption. What will you do when the sacred cows in your industry are brought to the butcher’s block?

NFL considers killing a sacred cow and allowing gambling back ino the game.
Credit: Pixabay by Keith Johnston

A couple weeks ago, the NFL had a summit to discuss gambling and the game. … Not the impact gambling could have on the game; actual gambling as part of the NFL — from your seat, at the game or in your home, every Sunday.

If they do that, it will mark the death of one of America’s most sacred cows: the separation of the big four team sports — football, baseball, hockey and basketball — from dirty, dirty gamblers who could taint the games. It could also bring Brink’s trucks full of even more money into the league coffers.

Why would they do that? Disruption.

Like many industries, the NFL sees a game-changing event on the horizon. The owners need to decide whether they want to stay the course (and potentially see someone else benefit from that disruption), or move first to make the most of it (and potentially ruin everything they’ve built).

If your industry hasn’t faced this kind of decision, it will. What will you do when your sacred cows are brought to the butcher’s block? Here are three steps to think through whether to keep Bessy on her pedestal, or make the hard cut.

1. Recognize the New Situation

This sacred calf has been venerated for nearly 100 years — ever since the “Black Sox” scandal, when the Chicago White Sox were accused of throwing the 1919 World Series. That was when the big leagues realized gambling could undermine the legitimacy of sports in the eyes of the American public (and any sports fan will tell you the referees do a good enough job of that all on their own).

While U.S. attitudes toward gambling have changed in the past decade, for most of my life, the idea of league-sanctioned gambling was absolutely unthinkable. Now, NFL ownership is considering not just whether they could cozy up with casinos, but how they might do it, and how many zeros those checks might have.

It could be the boldest stroke of genius, or the dumbest butt-fumble, in NFL history.

via GIPHY

Gambling exists in a grey area of American entertainment. By and large, sports gambling has been limited to just Las Vegas in the United States. Now the Supreme Court appears ready to allow New Jersey to add sports gambling to its casino and race track games, and that would open the floodgates for other states to do the same.

This is a remarkably new situation for the NFL. Gambling may be coming, and the owners would rather ride that wave than be drowned by it.

At the same time, some of the underlying realities of the Black Sox scandal have changed as well. Athletes of the time were not that wealthy, and very vulnerable to outside financial influence. Today, professional athletes are some of the wealthiest people in the world, and gambling payoffs large enough to motivate them seem unrealistic. What’s more, Europe’s soccer leagues have been in bed with gambling for years, and the nightmare scenarios just haven’t materialized (although it hasn’t been all clean, either).

All of those factors mean the context that made this cow sacred have changed. And the business people who’ve been holding it sacred need to recognize that, too.

2. Identify the Business Opportunities

It’s one thing to recognize the situation has changed. It’s another to identify the opportunities in it.

Has the NFL Lost a Step for Marketers?

All my life, NFL football has been the most popular, most important sport in America — perhaps the most popular and important event of any kind! But that popularity dipped in 2016. And on the eve of the 2017 season, I don’t feel like the league’s recovered.

All my life, NFL football has been the most popular, most important sport in America — perhaps the most popular and important event of any kind! The league just seemed to get more important every year, and the marketing space around it only became bigger and more valuable over that time.

But that popularity dipped in 2016. And on the eve of the 2017 season, I don’t feel like the league’s recovered.

NFL 2016: A Titan Stumbles

Coming into the 2016 NFL season, ad prices hit record levels. According to Kurt Badenhausen at Forbes and Standard Media Index, NFL ad revenue in 2016 hit $3.5 billion, a 3 percent increase over the prior year.

At the same time, over the course of 2016, NFL regular season TV ratings were down roughly 9 percent.

This did not pass without notice. Salon and ESPN were just two of many media outlets who openly asked, “What’s wrong with the NFL?”

AHas the NFL lost a step for maketers?nswers ranged from ratings competition with a contentious election season to cord cutters to the political and disciplinary controversies that seemed to envelop the league. Tom Brady, one of the league’s biggest stars, was suspended for several games, and some thought that alone accounted for the ratings dip.

But then the playoffs arrived, Tom Brady was back on top, and the Super Bowl was one of the five highest rated games in history (although it still had the lowest ratings for a Super Bowl in three years).

Dip traversed! The NFL was back … wasn’t it?

NFL 2017: Is Football Still Cool?

As a fan of the NFL, I have to say, this offseason was one of the least engaging I’ve ever seen. Around the office in Philadelphia — possibly the most intense football city in America — the sports talk seems quieter. Fewer younger colleagues are football fans … the sport has started to feel like, just maybe, it’s uncool.

Even around old sports fan friends, when I do talk about the NFL, there’s a 50/50 chance the talk will turn to  political aspects. We wind up talking about Colin Kaepernick, player discipline, Tom Brady and “Deflategate,” or other controversies around the game instead of the game itself.

With casual fans, concussions and CTE immediately come up.

But OK, those are just my circles; football isn’t really cooling off, is it?

Well, according to the league upfronts, where they actually sell those fabulously expensive ad,  it’s not just me. AdAge reported in June that interest in NFL advertising for the 2017 season was the softest it’s been since 2008 — the heart of The Great Recession. Ad prices are still rising somewhat — one source in the article says 2 percent to 4 percent this year — but there’s not a lot of excitement in the traditional media space.

The NFL is no longer entirely reliant on old media and the upfronts, though. Several social media networks have acquired rites to stream games themselves in recent years.

This year, Amazon is reportedly pricing ad packages around games at $2.8 million. In fact, Amazon’s packages would include a 30-second spot during the game, digital ads before and after the game, and a promise of unprecedented transparency into the ads’ performance and sales impact.

But is that enough to offset tepid TV advertiser interest?

This year is going to tell us a lot about the state of the NFL as a cultural institution, and as a marketing vehicle. Was last year’s dip just due to circumstance? Or is this marketing superstar finally past its prime?

With Good SEO, Everybody Wins

As a nation, we are fixated on deciding winners and losers. This is the season for determining winners and losers. We are in the midst of yet another presidential election of enormous consequence; the MLB pennant race is heating up; and the U.S. Open is concluding just in time for the NFL football season to get cranking.

NFL To Show First-Ever 3D GameAs a nation, we are fixated on deciding winners and losers. This is the season for determining winners and losers. We are in the midst of yet another presidential election of enormous consequence; the MLB pennant race is heating up; and the U.S. Open is concluding just in time for the NFL football season to get cranking.

This language of sports has infiltrated business. Other companies are referred to as competitors, and there are often discussions of level playing fields. There is always the undertone of winners and consequent losers.

It is no wonder that SEO has adopted the language of sports and competition. For many years, SEO has been about competing and winning valuable top rankings. This required beating out the competition.

What gets lost is that a dynamic that focuses on winners and losers is binary. The assumption is that if one party wins, another loses. Can there be multiple winners? Yes! Of course, there can be. I’d like to suggest that the current SEO playing field is moving toward a scenario where there are multiple winners — the search engine, the business and the customer.

The Game

Here is how I see this working. First, we must assume that search is part of a marketing ecosystem that includes customers, products, multiple vendors and other intermediaries including search engines.

Each has a separate focus and drivers.

The customer wants to purchase the best product at the cheapest price. The search engine’s business success is predicated on gleaning lots of search requests and delivering information and directions to goods that make the customer happy and willing to search again.

The business wants to sell its products and grow its revenues.

Now, here is where SEO comes into the picture. By including plenty of accurate content on well-designed product pages, the site owner provides lots of red meat for the customer and will be rewarded with a higher ranking than the businesses that appear to offer less relevant information. High-quality information allows the customer to make a clear decision and walk away from the transaction happy.

This benefits all parties. The customer/searcher will return to the search engine again based on the prior experience, the business enjoys the benefit from the sale and the customer has a satisfactory experience.

Now What?

You might say: “Fine, this is all good, but isn’t the business competing with others who offer the same goods?” When you move beyond a limited transactional approach — goods for cash — and consider the totality of the customer experience as unique, then you destroy the purely goods-to-goods model.

Search, with its continuing focus on delivering what the users want, is begging for this type of rethink.

The job of a good SEO is to act as a matchmaker. As an SEO who works with e-commerce retailers, I am always amazed at the efforts put into creating gorgeous sites that ooze the brand’s personality that are then flawed by horrible SEO.

The practice of SEO today is far more than twiddling a few lines of meta information or creating a technically sound site that indexes easily. These are the table stakes. The ante for even getting in the game.

Now, SEO must play a role in articulating the brand and personality for each product on the site in a way that creates a unique and satisfying experience for all of the parties in the ecosystem.

It is a tall order, but the rewards are huge.