Counting The Cost of Nike’s Bended Knee

Nike just did it!

They joined forces with swathes of protesting NFL Players, led by Colin Kaepernick.

The sportswear giant signed Kaepernick on a multi-year deal that makes him a face of the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign. They doubled up on the ‘Kap’ reveal with a video that aims to rile up the outlier in you.

Now, considering the amount of time and resources that Nike has invested into building a gilt-edged brand over the course of its existence; the high perch it commands on the roll call of admirable American brands, the financial indices any company would covet longingly, the ever fierce competition from Mr Adi Dasler’s camp, and the bulk of what it stands to gain versus losing; did it really count the cost of taking a knee?

Or…

Is this road less taken, an all too familiar route where they need no introduction?

Firstly, I believe the brand is playing the loyal friend. Beyond that Kaepernick has been a Nike-sponsored athlete since 2011 and had previously been featured in several campaigns, the brand has a long history of partnering with athletes of colour. This partnership gives them an edge in marketing a certain image as they (continue to) walk on this road less taken.

But then again, that’s just Nike doing Nike things.

Since the Kaepernick tweet that arbitrarily announced the Ni-Kap bromance, ‘the world’ has been divided into two major halves – one half thumbed it up, while the other half not only vowed a massive boycott, but went on to torch anything that has the Nike swoosh on it.

Add the massive boycott threats, gear torching and a plethora of articles, to the creative hashtags across social media, high level op-eds and general word-on-the-streets, you have a great meal of free publicity. Add that to an avante-garde, publicity-conscious brand, you have a banquet.

For a brand that is ever in your face, encouraging creativity, innovation and daring the outlier in you, it is only a matter of formality to even think they need an introduction to this particular stage.

For brand watchers (like me 😉), the division would be evened out into two camps – the conservatives and the outlaws. The former would admit Nike has been doing relatively well in a sports market that is constantly under pressure but would maintain it cannot afford to make (potentially) bad decisions. Anything which has the tendency to damage market share, such as overtly political campaigns, should be treated like a plague.

The outlaws would pitch in the opposite direction – that was Nike just being Nike. While they might admit the move by was risky (which is merely letting off steam of arrogance), they would quickly follow up with the narrative that ‘risky’ moves are necessary to stay relevant and stay ahead. Nike, though an American enterprise, has grown to be a global brand with a far-reaching audience, a lot bigger than those within the borders of where it was birthed. Hence, it would certainly not be affected by alt-right semantics from a portion of people.

Conservatives would retort; that exactly is enough reason to stay away from potentially damaging firecrackers, especially as the brand becomes a global behemoth.

Outlaws would counter that however big a tree grows, it can’t grow too big and completely detach from its roots. Hence, Nike will never shy away from identifying with its roots – what made it what it currently is. It becomes increasingly imperative by the day for brands to take a stand on social issues of global scale, younger consumers want to know what their favorite brands stand for – more of a reason to take a stance.

For all the argument is worth, Nike has since inception, been walking the route of Robert Frost’s traveler in poetic classic; The Road Less Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

While you can choose the camp of the Conservative or Outlaw, understand that it is configured in Nike’s DNA to be the latter – to walk on the road less taken. If anything, we would be worried had they decide to sit back and play safe.

For all they have stood for and for all they are worth, they are pathfinders on this road, and that, for them, has made all the difference.

Caveat: Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.

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