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Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.

Monday 15th October

On September 5th Nike released their 30th anniversary ‘Just Do It’ campaign creating commotion amongst consumers and media outlets. The reason for the controversy is Colin Kaepernick, the face of the campaign and former national football player known for being the first NFL player to kneel down in protest against police brutality towards African-Americans. As a result of his protests, Kaepernick has not been offered any further team contracts.

Since the launch of the campaign, Nike has been faced with mixed responses. Whilst their share price dropped by 2% just after release due to backlash from groups who disagree with Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the American Anthem, the company has quickly rebounded. Within weeks, Nike have seen a surge in online sales and hit an all-time high in share price.

The marketers at Nike were aware that having Colin Kaepernick as the face of their ads was going to be risky but it was a calculated risk. The brand knew that the first reaction for some people would be negative but this is a risk they were willing to take in order to stand up for what they believe in.


Advertising and Snap Judgments

An important notion in advertising is that we all perceive the world differently subject to our own experiences, values and upbringing. We judge situations, people, images and behaviours within split seconds based on instincts through thin-slicing (Wood, 2012).  Thin slicing helps us define patterns of behaviours based on very narrow slices of a whole experience, all within a matter of seconds. In his book ‘The Power of Thinking Without Thinking’ Malcom Gladwell explores this phenomenon in depth. As much as this tool is very useful in order for us to make quick decisions based on minimal information and minimal deliberation (Burton, 2016), it can also carry some drawbacks with it. One of them being stereotyping and ultimately making flawed conclusions. As an example, Gladwell mentions how almost all Fortune 500 companies are controlled by above-average height men. Although there is no link between intelligence and height, tall people tend to be favoured for leadership roles over shorter people with better qualifications. This is just one example that illustrates the negative effects of making snap-judgments.

In this case, the marketers at Nike knew the ad would elicit negative reactions but they wanted to challenge people’s opinions and draw attention to the issue of police violence in the US. In view of recent shootings and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, more light has been shed on police violence and racial injustice. According to several different studies, black men aged 15–34 are between nine and sixteen times more likely to be killed by police than other people (Khazan, 2018, Nike is taking a stance here, which is a rather rare thing for brands to do.


Risks in Advertising

There are steps brands can take to mitigate risks when launching a new campaign. For instance, marketers can ensure that the first impression of their creative is in line with what they want the ad to communicate to their audience. An example would be testing the creative before it goes into market with tools such as biometric testing, an offering the organic team here at Total Media execute for some of our clients. The test measures reactions to visual stimuli based on facial expression, heart rate and galvanic skin response.  In conclusion, the first step is to recognise the importance of the first impression and the effect it can have on brand perception. In addition, it is crucial to keep the conversation going between brands and consumers, not only in order to educate consumers about the brand and the message, but also to understand consumer’s needs to take into consideration for future campaigns (Burchill & Brodie, 2005).

If we look at Nike’s campaign, there definitely was/ is a group of people that felt offended by the ad. Some took to their social media accounts as their first instinctual reaction and created a hashtag to show their rage about the campaign by posting images and videos showcasing the destruction of Nike products. However, this also sparked a conversation (and Memes, of course) amongst consumers. Communication is what enables us to go beyond snap judgments and make more informed, deliberate decisions. Albeit the initial uproar and consequent drop in share price, the campaign has been a success on multiple levels.  It has not only delivered a substantial amount of earned media, an increase in followers and uplift in revenue, but has also raised awareness to a cause they believe in. Overall, Nike’s campaign is a good example of a big corporation ‘choosing a side’ and standing up for what they believe in, it is something most brands are not good at. It shows that brands can and should get involved in issues beyond their core business, it demonstrates the opportunity for brands to grow by doing good.’ (Hayman, 2018, Sometimes in order to make a change one has to take risks. Although a lot of consumers don’t agree with Colin Kaepernick, they are surely talking about him, and Nike. And who knows, maybe these conversations have helped change some people’s perspective…and that’s what matters, right?

Article Written by

Nida Akram

International Account Manager, Total Media

Nida is an International Account Manager on Slack, Lebara and Monese.

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