September 13, 2018
When Nike “just did it” early in September, many Americans, from the president to the buying public, thought that the company might take a stumble in the marketplace.
What the footwear and apparel manufacturer was doing could only be characterized as extremely controversial—creating an advertising campaign around the personality and politics of Colin Kaepernick, the athlete who first “took a knee” to protest that #Black Lives Matter during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner at an NFL game
However, according to a September 10 report by NBC News, Nike sales jumped by 31%—nearly one-third—after debuting quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick as a new company spokesman.
What’s more, market observers say that the president’s public displays of anger may have backfired by drawing more attention to Nike.
“Controversial endorsements tend to generate a lot of hype,” Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for Retail at The NPD Group, a market research firm, told Martha White of NBC. “These kinds of statements and brand partnerships make for a big impact on brand selling.”
Specifically, according to data from Edison Trends, online sales of Nike products jumped 31 percent between the Sunday before and the Tuesday after Labor Day, nearly double last year’s 17% increase over the same time period.
Kaepernick—now a free agent, but a quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers when he first started what became a league-wide protest—is part of Nike’s 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” tagline. A TV ad narrated by Kaepernick debuted Thursday on the opening night of the regular NFL season.
“Nike is a company that is focused on younger generations and expanding their market. This ad did that for them,” Hetal Pandya, co-founder of Edison Trends, told NBC.
But if Trump is no stranger to controversy, neither is Nike. The company’s decision to use Kaepernick —who is currently claiming that the NFL colluded against his employment in a lawsuit, isn’t the first time the athletic apparel company has used its brand platform to advocate for a cause or push for social change. Previous ad campaigns have taken on AIDS, gender inequality, disabilities, religion, and other cultural flashpoints.
“The brand has a rich history of positioning itself as a progressive company that connects with its customers through conflict constructive conflict,” Pandya told NBC News.
Experts say that by continuing to insert himself into the ongoing debate regarding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, Trump may have inadvertently helped out Nike by criticizing the brand on Twitter.
“Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts,” Trump wrote last week, and video clips of people destroying Nike products quickly went viral. But contrary to Trump’s assertion, while calls for a boycott across social media dragged down the company’s stock immediately after the news broke, share prices have since recovered.
Drafting Kaepernick as a spokesman has more upside than downside risk for Nike, analysts say, because the company knows its customer base well. Market research from YouGov Plan and Track shows that 46% of Nike customers have a positive view of Kaepernick, compared to 34 % of all Americans. YouGov also found a 10 percentage point increase in the number of Nike customers versus the general public who say a company should take a stand on social issues and have a “moral message.”
“The company understands societal trends and its customer demographics better than most,” Edison Trends’ Pandya said. “It’s a calculated risk, but one that our data shows has had a positive impact so far in terms of online sales.”
“In this case, controversy is a good thing to their target market,” NPD’s Cohen said. “Consumers who are most likely to shop online, and shop athletic apparel and footwear, are very much in tune with the movement and the willingness for a mega-brand to stand up against the establishment.”
Research contact: @MarthaCWhite