No. Nike’s “Just Do It” Ad Isn’t a “Controversy.”

by | Sep 9, 2018

THIS is why you put your audience above all else:


That’s how much Nike’s online sales went up in the two days following the release of their “Just Do It” ad featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Thirty. One. Percent.

That’s no effin’ joke. Which is fitting, because when Nike dropped this bomb during an NFL commercial break, they weren’t playing around.

If you haven’t watched the ad yet, please stop reading and do. I’ll even embed it below.


It gets me every time, man. And apparently, it gets enough other people that Nike’s online sales boosted by just shy of a third. (I still can’t get over that.)

I like to believe that a large reason why Nike launched this campaign was that it’s the right thing to do. But I’m also a cynic. So, this post is going to dig into why Nike chose to do this from a strategic and marketing standpoint.

As the official White House statement implored:

The answer isn’t “any press is good press.” This is not like when a company “accidentally” (how can an entire marketing team approve it and it still is “accidentally”?) runs a “tone-deaf” (just say it: racist) ad.

(Looking at you, Dove. And Intel. And Nivea. And Qiabi.)

Nope. Nike’s ad is not a “controversy.” It is intelligent, intentional, practical, FIRE storytelling. Let’s look at why.

Choose your audience over a vocal minority.

We are in an era in which the president (yes, the leader of the free world) writes chastising Tweets (deemed official statements from the White House) about Kaepernick’s protest against police brutality and social injustice . . .

. . . An era in which Kaepernick has been blackballed by the NFL (yes, openly) for exercising his first amendment right (that’s right, the one just before the second) . . .

. . . An era in which white nationalism (the thing we hoped was at least frowned upon by now) is at a modern high . . .

. . . And, apparently, we’re also in an era in which Nike chooses to stand in solidarity with their audience, no matter who rage-burns their socks over it (yes, as in, lights their already-purchased Nike socks on fire).

 “Ahhhh my money! Wait. You already paid me. Lolz.” -Nike

Nike came out on top because, despite the cacophony of loud, obnoxious people siding against Kaepernick, they knew that their audience, their target market, supported the protests. And by boldly broadcasting their alliance with that cause, they won even more passionate support from their already fired-up base.

It may seem like throwing your business head-first into an issue that divisive would take guts. But really all it takes is fully knowing your target market.

The riches are in the niches.

At least, that’s what Pat Flynn says. And I’m pretty sure he got it from someone else.

So. Who’s in Nike’s niche, anyway?

In 2017, Nike launched what they called “Consumer Direct Offense.” Basically, they planned to target 12 Key Cities across the globe which they estimated would generate 80% of their projected growth by 2020. So, basically, all of their growth. From 12 cities.

What United States cities were included, you ask?

Los Angeles and New York. Two of the most progressive cities in the United States.

The people most likely to support Drumpf’s outrage over Kaepernick’s protest fall into a few notable demographics. Namely, they tend to be white, older than 35, and not in New York or Los Angeles.

In other words, they aren’t Nike’s target demographic. In other-other words, Nike doesn’t give two shits about losing Mike Pence’s once-a-year sneaker purchase.

A good segment of Nike’s strongest customers—the ones that line up outside their stores for shoe releases and buy multiple $100+ shoes a year—are predominately city-dwelling young people of color. If we look at that fact alone, siding with Kaepernick is a brilliant move.

And, the thing is, Nike has taken progressive anti-racism stances before. Just last year, in 2017, they did an entire campaign called “Equality” that showcased talents like LeBron James, Serena Williams, Kevin Durant, Megan Rapinoe, Dalilah Muhammad, Gabby Douglas, Victor Cruz, Alicia Keys, and Michael B. Jordan.

It was powerful and bold but didn’t cause anywhere near as much of a charged response—likely because being for equality feels less threatening to white people than being against police brutality towards people of color, but I digress.

The moral is, Nike knows their story’s protagonist exactly. And if someone’s pissed off about their Kaepernick ad—well, then, they’re not their protagonist.

So, think about it: who is your protagonist? Or, more relevantly, who isn’t? Is there something you’d avoided saying because you’re afraid of pissing off people who don’t ultimately make or break your brand?

If so, maybe being bold would help you stand apart.

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Quick Win Copy Tip #3: Use Benefits

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