Tips for Being the Ultimate Remote Worker

By Freddie Haydn-Slater

Throughout history, companies have used their brands to make profound social and political statements. Last year, Burger King released an anti-bullying commercial highlighting how the number of customers who complained about a badly prepared burger was far higher than those who stood up for a child being bullied in the restaurant. As part of the “My Black is Beautiful” campaign — also released in 2017 — P&G released a commercial reflecting on the societal misconceptions many African American families face and how it impacts their lives. In 2015, REI made a bold statement by deciding to close their doors on the notoriously busy shopping day, Black Friday, to encourage people to #OptOutside and enjoy the outdoors instead of spending their time and money in-store. This stunt paid off significantly, as REI took a controversial stand and acted on its brand values. All these marketing campaigns shared one thing, they had a bigger goal in mind than simply promoting brands or products. They were promoting ideas with purpose by tapping into the feelings and relevant social causes to capture the attention and imagination of their audience.

Last week, Nike launched an ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the (in)famous NFL quarterback who silently protested racial injustice by “taking a knee” during the National Anthem. This protest quickly spread to other NFL athletes and also sparked national outrage, ultimately leading Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers to part ways at the end of the 2016 season.

The recent campaign consists of an image advertisement and a commercial featuring a monologue narrated by Kaepernick, encouraging aspiring athletes to become “the best ever” and not just settling for “the best in their league”. Images and video clips of famous athletes in their moments of defeat and glory visualize the inspiring message of Nike’s “just do it” slogan. The ad itself does not have a political tone and makes no mention of protests or inequality but the symbolic statement is powerful.

The minimal image ad features a close-up black and white photo of Kaepernick with the saying “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The campaign has received both praise and backlash worldwide with many supporters commending Nike for taking a bold, albeit divisive political stand. Those in opposition to the campaign associate Nike’s stance with disrespect for U.S. troops and blatant disregard for the people who really have “sacrificed everything.” Social media conversation, celebrity responses and memes of the ad have flooding the internet, showing how this simple, yet effective concept has tapped directly into popular culture. As marketers, the important question we should ask is: Did Nike take a huge risk, or did they make a long-term strategic move?

There are risks involved in any marketing decision. Regardless of your intent or delivery, you are bound to generate some level of negative sentiment. However, no company (especially one as resourceful as Nike) executes a marketing strategy without conducting extensive market research. This ad was produced with the anticipation of backlash and these insights were integral to its success.

As of the writing of this blog post, Nike online sales have increased 31%. According to AdAge, “Two-thirds of Nike’s U.S. athletic sales are to consumers under 35 years of age.” If this analysis was paired with other data points about those consumers, Nike must have determined that investing in a controversial marketing campaign would not damage their brand or overall profits in the long-term as they are appealing to the younger generations who demand more purposeful actions from brands.

However, the campaign’s success is not set in stone just yet. Nike materials are durable and not something the average consumer buys every other week. Could Nike have lost lifetime customers? According to Social Media Today, 90% of millennials value authenticity and transparency in brands. This means an emphasis on social responsibility rather than perfect packaging and using celebrity spokespeople. That 90% makes up the majority of Nike’s customers and although the message will appeal to their audience, what actions will follow?

Another recent example may help shed some light on this question. Popular clothing brand, Patagonia is outspoken about environmental protection. The company received backlash and boycott threats after tweeting “The President Stole Your Land” in response to the recent Bears Ears controversy. In 2016, Patagonia donated the entire $10 million from Black Friday sales to various environmental advocacy groups around the world. It may have been a loss for the day, but these donations were longer term investments and obvious proof that the company practices what they preach.

Will Nike and other brands that take political stances have similarly successful outcomes? Or is brand activism a hollow way for corporations to jump on a social trend to profit from social injustice?