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.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
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.
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.
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.