Colin Kaepernick is the newest face of Nike. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Erik Drost
Colin Kaepernick, the NFL quarterback who started kneeling during the anthem to protest against violence and injustice, has been made the face of Nike’s latest ad campaign.
Kaepernick has been tapped to help Nike commemorate the 30th anniversary of its iconic slogan, the brand announced on Monday. He is set to join other well-known athletes, including Odell Beckham Jr. and Serena Williams.
The latest ad shows a black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick’s face along with the words, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The phrase is believed to be a reference to Kaepernick’s lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly keeping him out of the league due to his protests against police brutality.
Kaepernick is known for leading the San Francisco 49ers to the Super Bowl in 2013. He left San Francisco two years ago and has not been picked up by any time since. Many teams had a need for a quarterback at the time but all of them declined to sign Kaepernick. This led many to believe owners were punishing him for his stance against the police or believe his presence would only lead to alienation among fans.
With his ex-teammate Eric Reid who was also one of the first NFL players to kneel during the anthem, Kaepernick filed grievances claiming team owners have conspired to keep them out of the NFL.
Since Nike’s announcement, many have expressed their views about it on social media. While many have praised Kaepernick for keeping true to his stance, others have slammed him for what they believe as disrespect to the military and the American flag.
First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive? pic.twitter.com/4CVQdTHUH4
— Sean Clancy (@sclancy79) September 3, 2018
Donald Trump Responds
President Donald Trump has publicly responded to Nike’s decision to make Kaepernick the face of its new ad campaign.
President Donald Trump criticized Nike’s recent campaign involving Colin Kaepernick. Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Gage Skidmore
“I think it’s a terrible message that [Nike] are sending and the purpose of them doing it, maybe there’s a reason for them doing it,” the U.S. leader told Daily Caller Tuesday. “But I think as far as sending a message, I think it’s a terrible message and a message that shouldn’t be sent. There’s no reason for it.”
While he does not agree with Kaepernick’s stance, the president did acknowledge that both Nike and the NFL player had the freedom to express their own opinions.
“In another way, it is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do, but I personally am on a different side of it,” Trump further stated.
In addition, he said Nike paid him “a lot of rent” because its flagship store in New York City is located in a building owned by Trump. The company left the property in 2017.
President Trump has frequently lambasted players who have kneeled during the anthem in the almost two years since Kaepernick began the movement.
Just last month, Trump suggested that players who kneel should be placed under suspension without pay.
NFL owners caved into the pressure earlier this year – approving a policy that would fine players who kneel during the national anthem. The new policy has since been put on hold by the league.
John Brennan Defends Kaepernick
One of the prominent people who defended Nike’s decision was former CIA Director John Brennan. Brennan lauded Kaepernick in a tweet, saying the athlete only gave meaning to the Constitution by taking a knee during the anthem to protest violence and racial injustice.
“Colin Kaepernick drew our collective attention to the problem of continued racial injustice in America,” he posted on Twitter Monday night. “He did so not to disrespect our flag but to give meaning to the words of the preamble of our Constitution—‘in order to form a more perfect union.’ Well done, Colin, well done.”
Bad Publicity is Still Publicity
The controversy around Nike’s new Kaepernick ad is probably not much of a surprise to the major sportswear company. In fact, many believe they have employed him to create more buzz for the brand.
In spite of the backlash, Kaepernick’s involvement is believed to be helping the promotion of Nike. Within less than 24 hours after Kaepernick’s spot was posted on Twitter, Nike has generated $43 million worth of media exposure.
Apex Marketing Group reported that a vast majority of that exposure is either neutral or positive. That means it outweighs the risk of alienating several customers, sports marketing executive Bob Dorfman said.
The move also positions Nike as a risk-taker, delivering a strong signal to its current slate of famous athletes. “It’s not a move that any company can make, but for Nike it’s definitely smart business,” Dorfman added.
Nike has yet to issue an official statement regarding the matter. On Tuesday, the company’s shares closed down 3.2 percent – its biggest one-day drop yet since the month of April. Meanwhile, shares in Nike’s strictest rival Adidas also dropped.
Nike’s Marketing Strategy
Nike is well aware that most of its customers are from the younger generation. NPD Group reports two-thirds of Nike’s customer base are below 35 years old from different races.
“Nike cares most about the category influencers and tastemakers — nearly all of whom will embrace their decision,” Howe Burch, Reebok’s former head of marketing in the U.S., said. “They know they will lose some customers short-term but not the kind of customers that really drive their business.”
Nike’s marketing strategy has been known to include disruptive athletes. Back in the early 1970s, runner Steve Prefontaine was tapped as the first athlete endorser of Nike.
The company is also known to be outspoken when it comes to its endorsers. When organizers of the French Open banned an outfit worn by Serena Williams, the company tweeted, “You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.”
Nike’s Relationship with the NFL
Some believe the renewed partnership between Kaepernick and Nike might result in tension between the company and the league. Nike has been the official uniform supplier for the NFL since 2012 and their partnership has been renewed up until 2028.
Kaepernick is in the middle of a legal battle with the NFL. Last week, an arbitrator said the controversial athlete had enough evidence to take his grievance suit to trial.
According to Burch, Nike’s decision to hire Kaepernick given his status with the NFL is quite unexpected.
“It’s a little surprising that they would take this position as the official supplier to the NFL,” Burch explained. “But they’ve never been uncomfortable being contrary.”