In light of recent headline news, the Flood team discussed the recent controversial marketing campaign launched by Nike that sparked nothing less than emotional, political, and passionate responses from audiences well beyond Nike’s standard demographic. Instead of communicating our off-hand opinions around the ad, Kaepernick, and what it means for our future habits as consumers of Nike products, we discussed the strategy behind the campaign, the intended effect, and its inarguable success despite impassioned shoe-burners.
So, what was Nike’s intended strategy?
It’s foolish to believe that Nike did not expect the backlash the ad would (and certainly did) inspire, especially since Kaepernick’s activism hasn’t been thwarted since his initial silent protest. In fact, Nike is known for using category influencers (in other words and in this case, athletes) as representatives of the brand, and many of those were controversial individuals in their own time. We instead recognize, firstly, the accuracy of Nike’s understanding for its consumer base: an ethnically diverse, urban-dwelling crowd of folks, mostly under the age of 35. Secondly, we came to terms with the influence of community and culture in the context of large-scale consumerism. Finally, we acknowledged Nike’s efforts to incorporate and use contemporary means of communication to their advantage.
By demonstrating that they’re willing to provide a platform for their customers and partners to voice individual human experiences, Nike effectively strengthens and humanizes the bond they share with their existing market. By acknowledging the cultural struggles of their consumers’ experience, Nike proves that they, in turn, support them despite perceived risks. In 2018, that’s especially meaningful to people. Consider the words of Marketing Blogger, Jessica Stillman, “Whether standing up for a cause is right for your brand depends, as ever, on exactly whom you’re trying to appeal to, but if you’re marketing to young, liberal-leaning urban dwellers, you risk getting left behind if you don’t stick up for your beliefs.”
Now, regardless of whether or not Nike’s motives were altruistic, they’ve certainly kept the algorithms that dictate exposure on social media platforms at the top of the drawing board and at the hilt of strategy. A September article by the Press Herald stated that Nike received more than $43 million worth of media exposure within the first 24 hours that the ad, featuring Colin Kaepernick’s headshot and a quote reading “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” was revealed.
What’s the stuff that gets viral traction in today’s age? Content that provokes engagement. As the number of likes, shares, and comments increased on the ad post– more and more people saw it, shared it, and commented on it in a continuous cycle. That effect is compounded by the folks who created and published their own content surrounding the topic, regardless of the nature of the accompanying rhetoric.
What are the marketing lessons to be learned here?
It’s easy to overlook the way that social media culture has revolutionized how media and advertising content is distributed and consumed. One would argue that “consumption” is perhaps an outdated description since most published content that is engaging or provoking is digested by multiple individuals via various avenues, and in one way or another, makes it back to the top for reconstitution, dissection, and further redistribution. Algorithms are continuing to be developed to perform in a way that connects people with brands and products that are proving themselves by consensus. The spineless junk just won’t make it.
The performance of the Kaepernick campaign has proven Nike’s superior understanding for not only the marketing environment in which it functions but also understanding for the audience it serves, as well as the audience it intends to reach and continue to grow. They’ve decided not to become a faceless entity with a bottomless budget, but have instead claimed a representative of both their brand and market audience that speaks to those who have supported them. By implementing the vanguard tools essential for optimum proficiency in a social media culture, Nike’s well-calculated approach has yet again anchored that unmistakable check mark in a position of seemingly permanent visibility.
By Polly Burge