Believe in something.

Making waves: Colin Kaepernick for Nike’s 30th anniversary of Just Do It.

As in life, art and protest, the world of sport has again become the focal point of political dissonance. Nike are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their iconic mantra, Just Do It. Featuring the divisive, bold and exceptionally talented Colin Kaepernick is not necessarily brave but it is a meaningful acknowledgement of the role that sports and athletes hold in our hearts.

Kaepernick, the infamous former Quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers was cast into the global limelight as a key stalwart of the #TakeAKnee movement. It is a form of public rebellion that involved NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. A protest on the mistreatment, violence and senseless killing of African Americans and people of colour.

Colin Kaepernick for Nike’s 30th anniversary of Just Do It.

Wherever you sit on the idea of kneeling during a national anthem it should be noted that African Americans and people of colour do experience significant disadvantage both in the US and Australia alike. Education, healthcare, life expectancy and incarceration rates are disproportionately weighted against them.

It is also worth noting that, until 2009, players in the NFL were not brought onto the field during the national anthem. This is not an age old tradition mired in custom and ritual. The ‘tradition’ began as part of a campaign lead by the US Department of Defense to increase “paid patriotism” when around $6.8 million USD was spent as part of the military’s recruitment strategy.

Nike has taken a stand, revealing Colin Kaepernick as the the face of their latest campaign. It will cause discussion, probably a tweet or two from Donald Trump, and may cause some people to stop purchasing their shoes from Nike. But it also speaks to the values and ethos of their brand. It shows how a brand can be true to its tone of voice and how that can be used to empower not only Colin Kaepernick but the rest of us too.

Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel during the national anthem before an NFL game.
Serena Williams in her Nike designed catsuit.

Nike and how it empowers people is a fraught topic. They celebrate the likes of Colin Kaepernick but what about their factory workers? To say there has been a history of mistreatment of factory workers is likely an understatement. Controversy follows Nike and it is often felt that until this issue is resolved they have no business talking about belief and sacrifice. As it stands you can read the official position here.

Rebellion and empowerment is not a new theme for Nike. They have consistently crossed the line between sports brand and cultural phenomenon. In 1995 they spoke of the difference participation in sports has on the lives of young women with their ad If You Let Me Play. This campaign highlighted benefits such as reduced rates of breast cancer and depression in women and young girls who take part in sport. Recently they released a series of executions celebrating the superpowers of Serena Williams and her ‘costume’ (which she was banned from wearing). Nike regularly makes space for protest, and a vision of a better world.

The vision to imagine a better future is something that the world needs more of. In a time where disrupters are shaping the future of finance, healthcare, technology and just about every other industry, it is clear that the role of organisations like Nike is forever changed.

The constant tug of war between wanting to stand for something and wanting to sell products seems for many inextricably complex. If we use Nike as an example we can say a conscious decision has been made to probably lose some customers (and sales) in the name of a cause they truly care about. Do you really want to keep customers you are so philosophically misaligned with?

The math of projecting this philosophy in such a divisive time probably suits Nike in the long run. They will likely gain more customers than they will lose, empower more positive voices than negative. And that is a pretty worthwhile ambition. A little loss for a big gain. A strong statement and a strong future.

And that is the lesson for all the brand managers and marketers out there. Champion your businesses, know your values and know where they sit in the world. The next time you’re faced with the prospect of losing a few customers to be true to your brand, be brave. Look to Nike’s example and stand for something.

Dream Crazy celebrates 30 years of 'Just Do It' for Nike

Write about now

Stay up to date with how we think about business and advertising.

Believe in something. Anything.
Believe in something. Anything.
Believe in something. Anything.