Calculated Risk: A Marketing Lesson Learned in the Nike Kaepernick Gamble

Last year’s Nick Foles Super Bowl trick play on 4th down to the TD. Opting for the three-point buzzer beater and the Big Dance win. The defensive slide handle on a counter that is either a PK or a game-saving stop at World Cup. Sports are all about risks. And in early September, we saw an wonderful play with the Nike Kaepernick campaign.

Nike, the world’s top sports retail manufacturer delivered a worldwide media sense based on the contentious, kneeling in the anthem, (ex) NFL player, Colin Kaepernick.

The effort garnered immediate attention (and activity ) from both fans and foes. Fans hailed the move and foes burnt their Swoosh-covered equipment . While many sat confused about the advantages and disadvantages of this threat, it immediately paid off in spades, sending Nike’s stocks soaring into an all-time large . But getting into the fray is not for each retail brand — if it is done, it needs to be done with eyes wide open and senses keenly attuned with an intimate understanding of who exactly your very best client is and what they need out of their favourite brand.

Know yourself and your client

Understanding your customer is essential for almost any retail brand, but it is especially crucial for those contemplating a dip to the”socially aware” political origin pool.

Increasingly, consumers want, or are fine with, their brands taking political stands. According to a recent study by OnBuy, 61 percent of Americans think that corporations must advocate for civil rights. Another study found that 77 percent of Americans believe corporations have a obligation to take action to deal with important societal issues.

Nike realized that though there are lots of middle-aged conservatives sporting last year’s cross trainers, there were considerably more open-minded millennials and Gen Zers wearing — and contemplating wearing — several more Nike products only based on their ideology. Compound that with increasing anti-corporatism from its younger customers, and Nike was prepared to take a stand to support under-represented minorities. One which re-ignited the brand and aligned it with a far more substantial target.

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The business expected that there could be backlash and determined the target customers earned would far outweigh the customers lost. It was completely unexpected — like calling a trick play on 4th down in the Super Bowl.

But political moves are not created equally. The reason Nike’s effort worked was because Nike is a sportswear company and Kaepernick is an athlete. There is a clear link here. On the flip side, it would not make as much sense for Nike to take a difficult stand on hot issues such as abortion or climate change.

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Time to signify

When you see an athletic footwear or athletic goods commercial, odds are you’re going to see extreme athletes training hard. Aspirational marketing makes sense, right? Not so much anymore.

Since sportswear continues to evolve and permeate the lifestyle industry via athleisure, brands will need to reevaluate the motives for their wider audiences. It has never been just athletes purchasing athletic gear. And it is definitely not especially pro athletes wearing them . It is your Average Joe or Jill. And they’re educated customers, less prone to conventional celebrity endorsement. So how else can a sports merchant position itself?

Consider the fashion industry. Aerie has gained plenty of love for their inclusive body campaigns which feature women of all colours, shapes, sizes and backgrounds. The consumer doesn’t wish to see the very best, skinniest versions anymore — they need to see themselves. And embrace a brand that knows them for who they really are.

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So the great thing about this Nike Kaepernick effort was that he was not simply put on a pedestal for his athletic skill. He was emphasized for his advocacy and his beliefs. And what is more, he was relatable to the countless individuals who see themselves as part of underrepresented minorities.

This carries tremendous weight. The customer that sees himor herself at a new athletic shoes or sporting a new baseball glove will trust and emotionally embrace that new in a much deeper level than the one that they can not relate to.

Go true or go home

Taking a stand is all good and well, but it is not something for the faint of heart. This isn’t due to the backlash from naysayers, but instead due to future backlash from people who do not believe you.

The smartest thing about Nike Kaepernick effort was how seamlessly it fit into its brand identity. Since the 80s, the brand has pushed the effective slogan, Just Do It. With this new effort, they’re placing their foot forward again, empowering their audiences in exactly the exact same manner as in the 80s. It is a tall order because Nike is a multi-billion buck, for-profit corporation!

But Nike — whose effort married well with the brand’s ethos — got a few (short-term) negative pushback (particularly from yours truly) for commodifying politics. Consumers may sniff out even the tiniest whiff of dishonesty and use it against you. If taking short-term hits is not part of your organization’s DNA, it is probably not the ideal call to go down this route.

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Should you decide to press ahead, you have to go ALL IN. You can not do it halfway — you need to take your theme and your perception and incorporate it into the culture of this brand. So bringing it all of the way to your shops.

Make the campaign a component of the whole consumer experience. Décor, signage and exhibits are your friends when it comes to creating a continuity of expertise throughout every channel. If you are taking a stand in favor of gun control (such as Dick’s Sporting Goods did earlier this season ), you might consider having a gun driveway where folks could come turn in their firearms. If you choose to advocate for state-funded sports applications, you might have displays of student athletes and their stories in the shops. This continuity is important and reiterates your credibility and credibility.







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