There has has been a great deal of commentary and discussion amongst both fans and the media surrounding the latest Nike advertising campaign featuring controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick. Even Bloomberg have waded in, with an article putting a $43M value on the discussion so far, which included views from the current US President, a former President and former CIA Director!
I think they are missing the point.
Having worked with Nike for 7 years in a previous role, I understand the brand, the business, its marketing and its customers. Allow me to explain what is going on here via the use of a few of the official Nike Maxims. There are 11 Maxims which anyone who works with or for Nike are encouraged to embrace.
Maxim 0:8 Do the right thing.
Nike have never shied away from controversial figures. Sometimes to their detriment (Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius), sometimes not (John McEnroe, Tiger Woods). For them it is about embracing the truth and being transparent, regardless of the reaction of others. I genuinely believe that they did not choose Kaepernick to feature in their ads because he would create a media storm, they chose him because he is an athlete who will act as a symbol of their values.
Maxim 0:10 We are on the offense. Always.
“If we can’t lead it, we don’t need it” is another truism of the organisation. Nike doesn’t ‘share’ marketing platforms with other brands, preferring to own them outright or create them themselves. As we saw in the recent #breaking2 initiative which they called a ‘moonshot’, an attempt to break the 2 hour marathon record for the first time.
Maxim 0:5 The Consumer Decides.
What Nike do is pick their spots and invest resource where it will have most impact with the people they wish to serve. So if some customers burn Nike trainers because of their endorsement of Kaepernick’s belief (which they have), they will not care. They would rather have deep, meaningful relationships with a few, than have indifferent relationships with the masses. This association and campaign will have deepened connections with loyal customers as much as it will have lost disloyal customers.
Maxim 0:3 Nike is a brand.
This might seem blindingly obvious, indeed some might say Nike is the ultimate brand. What they mean is that they stay true to who they are, only entering into something if they can be the best at it, insisting on total immersion and investment. Take their approach to retail (flagship Nike stores now rotate entire floor designs on a monthly basis) and other owned channels like their website and loyalty programme Nike+. They are all best-in-class, innovative, rewarding experiences. They even try and control their presence in third-party aggregated retail environments (hard to achieve).
So, for Nike it is not about generating controversy, the fact they have generated so much attention, is merely a by-product of being an authentic brand. No, for Nike it is about being true to who they are, supporting the athletes who represent their brand and building sustainable, long-term customer-serving platforms which they 100% own and control.
Click here to see a version of this article in leading retail publication Inside Retail.