The Colin Kaepernick Nike Ad: Powerful, Hypocritical, or Just Good Marketing?

On Thursday night, September 6th, Nike kicked off its “Dream Crazy” campaign with an ad narrated by Colin Kaepernick.

            Kaepernick is an impressive NFL quarterback. However, he came into political controversy in 2016 when he remained seated during the National Anthem. The athlete argued that he would not stand in honor of a country that oppressed people of color. The protest continued, and grew as more athletes and fans alike joined the 30 year old’s protest. However, Kaepernick polarized many people as well for his stance. There were some people that found kneeling for the anthem disrespectful and insensitive. Since the protests in 2016, Kaepernick has been a free agent unable to get a contract with a team. He and many other athletes point to his protest as the reason for his unemployement.

            In 2018, Nike launched a campaign called “Dream Crazy.” It focuses on the mentality that athletes represent more than their sport; they represent the challenges many overcome to reach their dreams. In the first installment of this marketing campaign, athletes of color—including Alphonso Davies, LeBron James, and Serena Williams—show the fight it took to get to where they were today. Though Kaepernick is shown in a brief image in the middle of the ad, it is not until the end that he is revealed to be narrating the segment. His famous line—“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” spurred on a lot of controversy.

Some consumers have cut out the Nike “Swoosh” symbol on their products, while others have posted photos of soldiers with the words “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” in contrast to Kaepernick. Trump took to Twitter to disparage both the NFL and Kaepernick, writing, “Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.” In fact, Edison Trends found Nike sales went up by 31 percent just from Tuesday to Sunday, the week the advertisement was released.

            Many viewers called the campaign extremely powerful. The ad emphasizes the particular excellence in athletes of color; not only are they incredible athletes but they overcame various societal and structural obstacles to get where they were at today.

            However, other viewers called the advertisement hypocritical, and find Kaepernick tokenized. Nike commonly overworks and underpays its workers in over seas factories, often abusing child labor in unsafe work conditions. They are commonly on the list of organizations that has sweatshops. Additionally, in the 2017 Paradise Papers, investigations discovered Nike used offshore investment to avoid taxes. Therefore, many viewers regard the advertisement as hypocritical and unrepresentative of Nike’s beliefs and behaviors.  In a study through Ace Metrix, analysts discovered 56% of consumers said they were more likely to buy items with Nike after the commercial compared to only 13% of people who said they were less likely. To some, the advertisement reflects the acknowledgement of discrimination in athletics. To others, it is only a guise for Nike’s irreverent strategies. And still for others, they find Kaepernick a poor symbol for the word “sacrifice.”

            Regardless of who is right, Nike ultimately profited from the advertisement. Most everyone has heard about the campaign, even if they have not seen it. Sales are up, and Nike’s stock is increasing. More and more, businesses use social activism to increase their sales. Dove, Secret, and BP have all launched campaigns based off of the “social good.” And all of their sales have profited, regardless of the inevitable backlash. Nike may genuinely believe in its “Dream Crazy” campaign. However, it is now the trend for large corporations to stand behind “popular” social activist fads. And it seems unlikely to me that a multi-billion dollar corporation didn’t consider the monetary benefit this ad would have.