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Brand Purpose Black Lives Matter Advertising

Kaepernick not solely responsible for Nike’s ‘record engagement’ says CEO Mark Parker


By John McCarthy, Opinion editor

September 26, 2018 | 6 min read

Nike’s chief executive Mark Parker has praised the performance of the brand’s memorable 30th anniversary 'Just Do It' campaign. Meanwhile, he cooled talk around NFL player and #BlackLivesMatter protester Colin Kaepernick’s role in any engagement or sales uplift.

Nike Williams and Kaepernick ads

Williams and Kaepernick ad spots

Parker went to great lengths to not attribute Nike’s success to any one marketing activation or ambassador during the brand’s first-quarter earnings call (25 September). He instead broadly praised Wieden+Kennedy’s work, saying he was “proud” of the performance of its ads and athletes including Kaepernick, Serena Williams, Odell Beckham Jr, Shaquem Griffin and Lacey Baker.

Kaepernick’s spot ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’ inspired parody, inspired protest – and even saw one man burn his Nike trainers while still wearing them.


The athlete’s involvement in the campaign proved to be decisive. Some boycotted the brand. Common complaints included the feeling the spot over-egged the struggle of athletes or gave footballers a political platform they are supposedly not entitled to. Furthermore, for some, the ‘sacrifice’ connotations in the copy were seen as an open insult to the armed forces and police – a sentiment no doubt fueled by president Trump personally calling out Kaepernick’s actions. These complaints are outlined in more depth by Rolling Stone which interviewed Nike customer service officials fielding calls from the public after the ad went live.

At the time, Gino Fisanotti, a Nike vice president of brand for North America, remarked: “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who have leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.”

Earnings at a glance

· 10% rise in revenue to $9.95bn year on year

· Lower than $1.1bn estimated by analysts

· North American sales up 6%

· Apparel up 11%

· Footwear up 10%

· Digital sales up 36%

· EMEA sales rose 11%

· Shares down 4%

On the earnings call, Parker linked performance broader: “It’s not any campaign, but many campaigns, it’s driving a real uptake, I think in traffic and engagement, both socially as well as commercially. We’ve seen record engagement with the brand as part of the campaign.”

To this end, Serena Williams’ spot also gained widespread acclaim. It dropped just after the French Open banned the tennis champion’s Nike catsuit. The ad read: 'You can take the super hero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers’. It came after president of the French Tennis Federation, Bernard Giudicelli, suggested the outfit didn't show respect for the competition.


On the overall drive, Parker said: “Just generally, we’re motivated to inspire our consumer to connect and engage and inspire. We feel actually very good and very proud of the work that we’re doing with Just Do It.

“Obviously, here, in North America but also around the world, it’s really transcended to North America market to touch people around the world.”

The brand claimed to have received a Labor Day sales uplift from this marquee campaign, it will be more apparent in future earnings calls to learn the extent of this long-term.

In the marketing world, there seems to be a disagreement over whether Nike had to be so confrontational in its Just Do It work. Nike backed a "renegade", challenged brands to properly embrace purpose. Some parties have said the work "matters", which from a corporate standpoint has been attributed and linked to a buoyed stock price for a time.

On the other hand, it really split consumer opinion with its confrontational tone. The assumption is Nike knows how history will assess this activity and has acted boldly, putting out a clarion call to the consumers it wants, rather than the ones it currently has.

Later in the call, Andy Campion, chief financial officer and executive vice president of Nike, discussed European performance of the brand, which was closely linked to the World Cup in Russia. He said: “By connecting more deeply with consumers in key influential cities and by amplifying the biggest moments in sport, Nike is creating increasingly greater distinction as a brand in Europe. One of those sports moments was the incredibly exciting World Cup in which both of the finalists were Nike teams.”

The 'Awaken the Phantom' campaign (below), and launching a new footwear brand soon after generated 50m views in a few weeks. He added: “We are far from having achieved our full potential. We see the opportunity to both grow the market for athletic footwear and apparel across Europe, and also create even greater separation from the competition as a brand.”

Nike: advert-body-3 by Wieden+Kennedy

By Nike

Overall Rating 5/5

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