This article was written by APCO alumna Amy Garrick.

This article originally appeared in PR News.

As you know, Nike released a series of ‘Just Do It’ ads this week; the one gaining the most attention features football player Colin Kaepernick. The campaign says, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of “Just Do It,” a campaign and slogan that have become synonymous with the brand, this ad may be Nike’s boldest statement yet as it takes on the issues of police brutality and racial injustice. 

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward," says Gino Fisanotti, Nike's VP of brand for North America. 

Just Doing It Since 2011

While Nike made a strategic move this week, it’s worth noting Kaepernick has been under contract with the brand since 2011. His deal was renegotiated months ago, after Kaepernick filed a suit against the NFL. The suit claims team owners are colluding against him as a result of his kneeling protest during the national anthem in 2016. The Nike deal includes a contribution to Kaepernick’s charity, Know Your Rights. To what degree Nike will maintain its commitment to this issue will be interesting to watch.

Nike’s advertising and promotional costs for 2018 are estimated at $4 billion. A well-liked brand, 77% of consumers viewed it very favorably or somewhat favorably, an APCO from earlier this year survey shows. The company likely weighed the potential costs and benefits before embarking on this campaign, making a conscious decision to enter the social conversation. Despite protests against the brand this week, Nike knew what it was doing. It’s important to understand why.

The most-aware consumers want brands to take stands. A survey of 1,000 hyper-aware and influential U.S. consumers by APCO last fall showed: 

  • 95 percent believe companies have the ability to create a better society
  • 90 percent expect companies to be involved in taking on society’s most pressing issues and
  • 71 percent say it is acceptable for companies to take a stand on a political or social issue, even if it is controversial

Racial Discrimination and The Numbers

Of 11 issues consumers were asked about, 89 percent said it is always or sometimes OK for CEOs to speak out about racial discrimination. In addition, racial discrimination was ranked fourth, behind access to education, health care access and hunger in the survey. Racism was at the root of Kaepernick’s initial act of protest.

In addition, the survey showed:

  • Democrats (95 percent) were more likely to say it’s OK for CEOs to always/sometimes speak out on racial discrimination as opposed to Republicans (77 percent).
  • The most appealing actions a company can take to combat racial discrimination are to:
  1. Partner with an anti-discrimination organization to improve internal policies (27 percent);
  2. Make efforts to increase the number of employees from underrepresented groups (21 percent);
  3. Prevent people promoting racial discrimination to use the company’s products/services (16 percent);
  4. Donate money to organizations working to combat racial discrimination (14 percent); and
  5. Issue a public statement condemning racial discrimination (14 percent). 

Early Numbers Mixed

A major question, of course, is did Nike do the right thing from a brand-reputation viewpoint? At this very early juncture the jury is out, but based on the above survey, we expect the verdict will be yes eventually.

Morning Consult polling shows Nike’s favorability is taking a hit. Its poll earlier this week shows 24 percent of consumers now view the brand unfavorably, up from 7 percent before word of the campaign broke. Nike had a favorable rating of 76 percent before Kaepernick; it’s at 60 percent now, Morning Consult adds. 

Based on the APCO survey noted above, we can surmise much of the downturn in favorability comes from Republicans. Remember, though, the bulk of Nike’s core audience is younger than 35 and diverse. This group likely will embrace the Kaepernick effort. 

Apex Marketing Group’s numbers tell a better story for Nike. They say Nike has received more than $163 million in brand exposure on TV, radio, online and social media since Kaepernick's tweet announcing the campaign September 4. Apex says $66 million has been positive, $49 million negative and another $49 million neutral. 

Perhaps the biggest test will be the campaign's influence on sales. An early estimate says Kaepernick gave Nike a Labor Day sales boost

Share price also is critical. As we saw with Dick’s Sporting Goods when it took an anti-gun stand in March, the share price initially fell, but it has improved. So far, it's the same with Nike.

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