Sorry not sorry: why Nike has a head start in social positioning

With its controversial Colin Kaepernick ad, Nike has set the bar higher for all other brands by being non-conformist and unapologetic.

They stood by a renegade.

At close of business yesterday, Nike’s share value dropped 4%; its earned media value however notched up a healthy US$43 million. Many investors were in fact surprised about the selloff given that Nike is known for creating campaigns that are on the cusp of sports and culture. Most believe the impact is short-lived.

For a number of us communications professionals, our job is to protect corporate reputation so that it does not impact a company’s share value especially when it is a listed company. Consumers on the other hand want brands to take sides and show which side of fence they are on. Most brands are on the side of their shareholders.

So, when a brand like Nike enters a rather brazen territory of taking a stand, they stick their neck out with full knowledge of the backlash they will receive. Unsurprisingly, most calls made to Nike’s communications team have gone unanswered. Instead, they upped it a notch by releasing a film in which Kaepernick asks viewers if they are “crazy enough” because it is crazy only until you do it. Once you have, you make history.

And Nike just did it.

Indeed, we could all just be cynical and say that Nike did this to appeal to its younger audience base – its new generation of consumers who are in the 15-17 years old category, belonging to the multi-ethnic communities and for whom the more authentic a company is, and the kind of causes it stands for, is important for consideration and purchase. Yet, what we can't downplay is Nike's courage.

US-based NDP Solutions that offers data-backed insights into the consumer industry, has said that a brand’s social position is an important factor in a consumer’s decision-making journey, all the more when these consumers are millennials. As the footwear market grows and transitions, NDP recommends that a brand must must “play in this space and over-communicate their positioning to win over consumers in a footwear market.”

Brands have a tough choice to make. To stay relevant, they must venture into the risky territory; they must take a stand; and they must prepare to face backlash from consumers. To this end, Nike has made a fantastic head start.

Neither safe, nor sorry

Madhavi Tumkur is founder and director of Enterprise PR & Marketing.

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