Kaepernick: Nike’s polarizing new face
“Colin Kaepernick is the new face of Nike,” said Jason Gay in The Wall Street Journal, “and the country predictably lost its mind.” Last week, the giant sportswear and sneaker company launched a new ad in its “Just do it” campaign featuring the former NFL quarterback, who started the player protest of kneeling during the national anthem. Underneath Kaepernick’s face, the ad says, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Within hours, a boycott was launched, outraged conservatives began posting videos of themselves burning Nike gear and cutting the “swoosh” out of apparel, and Nike’s stock slid 2.6 percent. But fans who side with Kaepernick and other black players involved in the kneeling protests helped boost online sales by 31 percent. Nike’s marketing team “had to know all of it was coming”—“the praise, the fury,” even the videoed barbecues of $180 Air Maxes. “Whether you’re offended, not so offended, or offended that other people are offended, you’re participating in a Nike marketing campaign.”
What a deeply cynical way to sell overpriced sneakers, said Megan McArdle in The Washington Post. Nike’s ad commercializes, and thus trivializes, the issue Kaepernick was protesting in the first place—his belief that there is widespread mistreatment of African-Americans by police. And it’s simply “not healthy for America” for consumer brands to further divide us into warring camps. Brands used to be “terrified of controversy,” said Rebecca Jennings in Vox.com, but since Trump became president, “there’s never been a more popular time to be a brand with an opinion.” Coke, Pepsi, Airbnb, and Patagonia are just a few of the companies that have created ad campaigns to make themselves seem “woke,” with images of protests or tributes to diversity.
Will the “woke Social Justice Warrior crowd” fall for this obvious manipulation? asked Jim Geraghty in NationalReview.com. Let’s not forget that Nike, a company with $35 billion in revenues, has a long history of exploiting overseas labor, with pathetic wages, forced overtime, and limits on bathroom trips. It’s also getting sued in the U.S. for pay discrimination against women and ignoring sexual harassment complaints. Nike officials built their empire through branding that’s as disingenuous as it is ingenious. Once again, they’ve “cemented their position as The Man by marketing an image of fighting The Man.” ■