The Power of an Ad – How Nike Ad Launched a Controversy

admin | September 17, 2018

Brands usually avoid politics. It’s easier and safer to just maintain a mainstream profile that appeals to everyone – or at least that doesn’t alienate anyone. But in a world increasingly polarized, playing it safe no longer guarantees success or peace of mind. It’s harder not to stand for something.

When I say “it’s harder”, I really mean that consumers demand brands to define Who they are, and What they believe. There are brands – like Patagonia or United Colors of Benetton – that made their political and societal commitments as an integral part of their business. But they are the exception and not the rule.

It was a little surprising when Nike decided to make a stand with its latest commercial. While the brand motto is “just do it”, no one really expected them to actually follow through with a bang, launching an ad that pushed American public opinion to a dichotomous situation: you either applaud Nike for “doing it”, or you protest against it by burning and disfiguring the brands apparel.

The ad in itself is not different to dozens of previous Nike’s commercials. It’s uplifting, dares consumers to chase their dreams, pushing them to defy the odds, and uses both amateur and professional athletes to emphasize the message. In essence, it’s your run of the mill epic “believe in yourself – just make sure you use our brand” commercial with stellar execution. Until it stops to be.

And that happens precisely at 1:20 when NFL player Colin Kaepernick is revealed. By choosing Kaepernick – who started the “take a knee” movement to protest against police brutality – to Nike took its stand alongside the player. As expected, backlash ensued. Protests against the brand started to appear all over the USA, and social media the battling ground for protesters and defenders to show off their opinions.

So far, the bold move seems to be working perfectly for Nike. Online sales went up 31% in the immediate aftermath. The company stock price went down with the first negative reactions to the ad, but quickly recovered. More importantly, Nike knew what they were doing. The commercial is perfectly targeted to their core fan base (young liberals, aged 18-34, ethnically diverse), not being afraid to alienate other consumers (middle-aged conservatives, predominantly white).

The results of a study commissioned and published by Marketing Week show that brand attitude either remained the same or improved with the ad among core Nike consumers. Moreover, the study analyzed the potential impact on UK consumers, showing that either the ad didn’t change in any way their attitude towards the brand, or that it changed it to a more positive view.

Yes, Nike will lose consumers and their business. There will be a large group of people that will actively avoid and even denigrate the brand. But, at the same time reinforced its position among its target demographics and its place as a thought leader. It changed the social narrative of the brand and dominated media attention for a week.

All with the power of an ad.

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