Is Nike’s ad with Kaepernick an example of brand purpose?

By John A. Quelch

Is Nike’s ad with Kaepernick an example of brand purpose?

By John A. Quelch
It was revealed Monday that Colin Kaepernick will be part of Nike's 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign.

Nike is running television ads featuring Colin Kaepernick and the tagline: “Believe in Something. Even If It Means Sacrificing Everything.” Whatever your views are on the merits of Kaepernick’s protest, this move makes good business sense. Here are four points to consider:

1. The boringly well-known “Just Do It” slogan says nothing directly about what Nike believes. In fact, it is entirely belief agnostic. Increasingly, we find millennials identify with and pay price premiums for brands they can believe in because the brands themselves believe in something.  Brand purpose is a differentiator, as it is the reason for a brand to exist aside from making a profit. Some object to corporations attaching themselves to social justice causes - but why not if that’s what their consumers want?

In fairness, Nike has consistently backed the rights of individual athletes, including Kaepernick, to express themselves freely. That adds to Nike’s ability to sign athletes. Moving from press releases to paid ads simply shows an extra level of commitment that is consistent with what the brand has been saying already.

2. Market share leaders always run the risk of gradually becoming all things to all people. When this happens, the fun, the edginess drains out of the brand. View the Kaepernick ads as a shot of brand adrenalin that’s reaffirming Nike’s support for underdogs and delivering tremendous free publicity just as kids are buying back-to-school sneakers.

3.  Nike has calculated that the sales upside dwarfs the sales downside. Prior petitions calling on Nike to drop its support for the NFL petered out. Recent public burnings of Nike shoes aren’t rallying consumers to a boycott but are adding to the brand’s credibility.

Nike has flexibility here. It can dial the Kaepernick ads up or down as a percent of its total US advertising according to consumer reaction. Even if they are upset, what are the patriotic objectors to Nike’s Kaepernick ads going to buy instead? The German brand Adidas, which also owns Reebok? Unlikely.

4.  Nike has a lot of marketing dollars invested in the NFL. In March, Nike committed to extending its uniforms and apparel deal with the NFL to 2028. Nike’s Kaepernick ads give some cover to Roger Goodell and the NFL owners ahead of the season openers this coming week. 

You may support or reject Kaepernick’s peaceful protest, but there are plenty of good business reasons for Nike to feature him in its advertising.

John A. Quelch is dean of the University of Miami Business School and vice provost for executive education. This story originally appeared on LinkedIn.