“It’s not just because it’s an act of benevolence. It’s because it’s good for business.”
— Hannah Jones, Nike's Head of Sustainability
Nike has been majorly winning lately. It’s no secret that Nike has become the brand of choice for athletes and streetwear consumers alike with their endorsement of high profile athletes and celebrities. In the past year, they have produced successful collaborations with the likes of Virgil Abloh, Kendrick Lamar, Supreme and Comme des Garcons to name a few. Aside from pushing out great collections of gear for Fall/Winter '18, they have been securing their spot as a champion in the realm of social activism. In honor of the 30th anniversary of their “Just Do It” campaign, Nike chose none other than Colin Kaepernick as the face of the campaign. Their tagline is symbolic of Kaepernick’s harrowing journey of the past couple of years:
“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”
The decision to use Colin Kaepernick as the face of the campaign is interesting for two reasons, first being the controversy surrounding Kaepernick himself. Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past two years, you know he has been surrounded with heated tension and controversy since he began taking a knee during the National Anthem in protest of social issues in 2016. After leaving his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, in 2017, Kaepernick became a free agent, but has yet to be picked up by any team in the league, despite his numerous career successes and ranking. This has led to suspicions that Kaepernick was blackballed, leading him to file a collusion case against the NFL that is set to go to trial. If the case rules in his favor, the NFL could be held legally responsible for keeping Kaepernick out of the league due to bias. This could lead to serious penalties and, above all else, a forever tarnished reputation for a franchise already struggling with wavering fan support.
Now the second and most interesting part is that Nike is a premier sponsor of the NFL. In addition to providing jerseys for every team in the league, they have numerous branding and merchandise holdings with several players. So Nike, why risk your profit margin, reputation and overall consumer loyalty by aligning with somebody like Colin Kaepernick whom the media has deemed “unpatriotic” and problematic? The answer lies in the DNA of the Nike brand itself.
Nike is one of the most progressive sneaker brands in the world and has always been a forerunner, setting trends and going against the grain. They’re not afraid to take risks and do things that other brands aren’t. Think of it like this: If Nike hadn’t taken a risk on Michael Jordan by releasing the first Air Jordan I, the landscape of sneaker culture might look drastically different.
Recently, Nike also came to the support of tennis superstar Serena Williams after her catsuit was banned by the head of the French Open, for reasons still unclear to most. The full compression outfit, designed exclusively for Serena by Nike, was engineered to help prevent the blood clots she has suffered from since giving birth to her daughter last year (see just how the suit works here).
Whatever your feelings are on Colin Kaepernick’s kneeled protests or Serena’s fashion choices on the court, Nike has made their stance on the issue perfectly clear. Today’s brands recognize the importance and value of social capital and aligning themselves with progression. They also realize the power they have to change consumers minds; Nike is no different and protects its assets in all capacities. Serena Williams and Colin Kaepernick are just two of the high profile athletes on Nike’s endorsement roster, both of whom are very outspoken and supportive of diversity and social responsibility in sports. Nike has positioned itself to be a socially conscious brand by endorsing them and aligning with their ideals.
“A brand that doesn’t stand for something is no longer a brand worth working for," Nike sustainability head Hannah Jones said in a January 2018 interview with Fast Company Magazine online. When asked about the decision for Nike to become more involved in social activism and sustainability, Jones explains it like this: “We learned the hard way that when you don’t use your voice for advocating for good and you don’t stand up for your values, that silence quickly becomes misinterpreted. We come from a long heritage with [Nike founder] Phil Knight of always standing for the athlete, always. He is fierce about it. At key moments in cultural context, political context, we have to stand for what we believe in.”
Similarly, they have done the same with the LGBTQIA community with their BETRUE campaign and their push to sustainability, making all their facilities 100 percent renewable energy efficient in the next few years.
Well played Nike, well played.