What Nike did.

Recently Nike made Colin Kaepernick the face of its new marketing campaign.

The campaign includes an advertisement that is extremely powerful. Just watching it inspires viewers to go out and accomplish something incredible. However, what makes the advertisement special is that it provides Colin Kaepernick with a new platform for protesting police brutality against African Americans and has put this cause back in the spotlight.

I don’t remember the last time an advertisement was this polarizing.

Most polarizing ad campaigns have some aspect that is insensitive to a marginalized group. This one, however, seems polarizing for almost the exact opposite reason: some Americans think the ad demeans the American flag, a symbol of an institution they consider sacrosanct and beyond reproach: the US Military. This is despite the fact that Colin Kaepernick and his supporters have ardently denied that their protests are meant to demean the US Military.

Regardless, there have generally been three primary reactions to the campaign:

  1. It’s awesome that Nike has made Colin Kaepernick the face of the campaign! I’m going to go buy some new Nikes!

  2. I like Kap and what he stands for but I refuse to support Nike because (a) it’s a big corporation and (b) there are human rights concerns around worker wages in factories and there is evidence that they may discriminate against women in the workplace.

  3. I’m going to go make a shoe bonfire! I just got these new kicks, but I’m going to burn them anyways. Kaepernick hates America and now I know that Nike does, too!

Many of us are also trying to decipher the motivation behind the new campaign. Is Nike just trying to be considered a rebellious brand? Is it trying to pander to certain minority and progressive groups? Does Nike really hate America? Or did it run the numbers and this is merely a corporate calculation to maximize shareholder value?

To a great degree, none of this really matters very much (although I’m pretty sure Nike doesn’t hate America).

What I’d like to note is that Nike has knowingly taken a stand on a controversial issue in an extremely public way. In doing so, Nike is both leveraging and risking its most valuable asset: its brand. While it is inevitable that it will lose some of its customers, it is likely that it will gain sufficient new customers to offset its losses. In the long run, it’s probably a strong play, especially as Nike will most likely find itself on the right side of history (assuming that future generations condemn brutal oppression).

This, however, does not absolve Nike from its shortcomings around rights, equality, or transparency. Nike deserves to be held to accountable for any these actions both publicly and financially. That said, when a company or a person does something right, it should be applauded and recognized. If companies are not recognized for their positive impacts, they might conclude that it isn’t worth the risk and instead focus solely on how to make money at any cost. Progress is not about perfection, it’s about improvement. And in this instance, Nike has most certainly taken a leadership position in trying to make the world a better place.