Nike is just playing a game
The “controversial” new advertising campaign revealed by Nike the other day prompted “people” to destroy everything Nike they own and declare a moral boycott over the shoes they’ve already purchased, all in the name of denouncing Colin Kaepernick. He’s the newest face of the “Just Do It” campaign.
On Monday, Nike announced that Kaepernick is one of the athletes helping commemorate the 30th anniversary of the brand’s iconic slogan. Odell Beckham Jr. and Serena Williams are also among the other faces of the new campaign.
In essence, the ad is simply a black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick’s face with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” — a reference to his lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback out of the league over his protests against police brutality.
Though he and other NFL players who have kneeled during the national anthem maintain that their protest is about police brutality resulting in the deaths of unarmed black Americans, that hasn’t stopped their critics, including President Trump from claiming disrespect on the flag and country.
So in turn, after this new campaign was released, it triggered some people. The same people who got triggered by NFL athletes for standing up for human rights and equality against police brutality, while kneeling.
Americans destroying the apparel that they’ve already paid for to scold a multibillion-dollar company over an ad campaign that promotes rebellion but also is implicitly selling conformity: It sounds like deep-level satire. But that is the world we live in, and it crystallizes some specifics of how the internet outrage machine operates—and how Nike has already won.
Some people are destroying the Nike stuff they’ve already bought and own. More people, however, are mocking them for doing so.
One of the best tweets I have seen so far is a response from Paul F. Tompkins: “THIS IS THE GREATEST, STUPIDEST THING. If there is ANY upside to the ugliness of the wave of open white supremacy we are experiencing right now is the HILARIOUS COMEDY OF SHEER DUMITUDE.”
Other details this viral Nike Boycott has thus far failed to take into consideration whether it also means never rooting for Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State, Michigan, Texas, Baylor, or any other college that is sponsored by Nike. Does it extend to other brands owned by Nike, including Converse and Hurley? What about other brands who openly oppose Trump, like Under Armour?
What is being underlined in this conversation around Nike destruction and its relative merit is that this performative boycott isn’t just about the brand itself. Setting Nike shoes on fire or cutting up a pair of your own socks allows these users to voice their displeaseure with Nike and assert their own identity in a public space that might in turn invite mockery, sure, but will also reward them for their performance: In shunning Nike on Twitter, they’re also courting follows, likes, and retweets, the platform’s main currency.
The irony here, is that Nike’s Kaepernick ad is strengthening brand awareness and is ensuring Nike is getting exactly what it paid for. They knew what they were doing when it picked Kaepernick for the ad, as they’ve had him under contract since 2011. They reportedly began negotiating a “new, multi-year pact” with him months ago, well after he initiated the lawsuit alluded to in the ad’s text. Timing is of no coincidence.
The risk of negative response that Nike took proves that the brand believes the rewards of sponsoring Kaepernick outweighs the cost. The ad became part of the national conversation within minutes of its release and that just means that it is already working. Whatever minor hit Nike’s stock has taken in the immediate aftermath is outweighed by the long term attention the brand is receiving.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that the identity factor works both ways. The spirit that drives one person to burn a pair of already purchased Nikes is the same spirit that can move another person to buy the branded apparel that’s part of this movement.
This in whole is a rare example of a company taking a loud, public stand for social justice, civil rights, and just simply what is right. Nike is putting at least some of its money where its mouth is: Kaepernick’s deal with the company reportedly includes a contribution to his Know Your Rights charity, the charity that he, himself, has donated to among several civil rights and equality organizations. That counts for something! Even if Nike loses some fans (who have already purchased shoes and socks) along the way.
Way to go Nike.