Nike made a gamble – and it resonated

Brook-Ward Kaepernick via photopin (license)

18 Sep Nike made a gamble – and it resonated

Knowing your target audience and when to take a calculated risk

Nike released their ad, Dream Crazy, on Sept. 5. The two-minute montage follows obscure and well-known athletes alike, training for and playing their respective sports. The video ends with a bold call to action, “So don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough.”

The spot broke the internet.

Nike’s short advertisement was evocative enough to prompt some people to burn their gear, start a social media hashtag campaign (#NikeBoycott) and garner presidential Twitter attention.

If you haven’t seen the ad for yourself (join the 26 million viewers and just do it), you might be wondering how there could be so much backlash.

Narrated and briefly featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, many viewers took the ad as a direct offense to the American flag and our country. Trump questioned if Nike knew they would incite so much of a response. My bet’s on yes.

Executives at Nike, a company worth nearly $35 billion, would never make a PR or marketing move without testing the projected outcome. Every message is highly calculated and tested before hitting the market. If they didn’t think it was worth fire, boycotts and presidential disdain, they wouldn’t have moved forward with the ad.

Nike made a gamble. They released the ad and they’ve made Kaepernick the face of their 30th anniversary campaign. But they did so with significant testing, all with a distinct understanding of the risks they were facing.

And it paid off.

Rafael Decrusch - Nike - Pexels

Rafael Decrusch – Nike – Pexels

While Nike stock took an initial hit on Sept. 5, online sales skyrocketed. At this point, stock prices have returned to near-normal numbers since the ad came out.

APCO reports that the “most-aware consumers want brands to take stands.” A 2017 APCO survey of 1,000 aware, influential U.S. consumers showed:

  • 95 percent of surveyed respondents 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.

Nike has a history of tackling tough social issues through their marketing efforts. In 1995, they featured HIV-positive marathoner Rick Munoz in an ad, arguably helping breakdown some of the existing stigma around HIV and AIDS.

In March 2017 they released “What will they say about you?”, showing middle eastern women running, skateboarding, boxing, playing soccer, ice skating, fencing, etc. This isn’t the first time Nike has hit stereotypes head on and received backlash. And, given the trajectory of their brand, it won’t be the last. Most every time it works in their favor.

Marketing and PR are about messages that resonate with a certain target audience. It’s about understanding who your buyer is, what makes them act in a certain way *and* how to best reach them.

Nike’s target audience is young people – ages 18-29 – who are, statistically, more sympathetic to Kaepernick’s story, more aware and outspoken on racial discrimination, and more demanding of the brands they buy. According to Forbes, Millennials “demand the companies they do business with have a focus on values and ethics – not just profit.” 

(In case you’re curious, Nike’s ad features skateboarder Nyjah Huston, legless wrestler Isaiah Bird (who also  swims, runs track, surfs, and plays sports like soccer and football, according to ABC), boxing champion Zeina Nassar, wheelchair basketball player Megan Blunk (who took home the gold in the 2016 Paralympics) and long distance runner and medalist Eliud Kipchoge.

Giant’s football player Odell Beckham Jr. makes an appearance, alongside high school linebacker and homecoming queen Alicia Woollcott, Ironman Charlie Jabaley, skateboarder Lacey Baker, young, refugee soccer player Alphonso Davies, and basketball star/ philanthropist, LeBron James.

It also includes US Soccer’s Women’s National Team, one-handed NFL player Shaquem Griffin, and a moving series of clips showing various stages in Serena Williams’ career. Insider gives more insight in last week’s article.)


Main photo credit: Brook-Ward Kaepernick via photopin (license)

Emily Burdeshaw
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