Colin Kaepernick, a former NFL quarterback known for kneeling to protest the American anthem, was a surprise choice as one of the faces of Nike's latest ad campaign.

By Daniel Herborn

Posted on September 11, 2018

In the immediate aftermath of the campaign being made public, billions of dollars were wiped off the value of the sports apparel giant.

The company’s market cap fell around 4%, falling around US$3.75 billion to US$127.82 billion before recovering slightly by the end of the day’s trading.

The hashtag #NikeBoycott was trending on social media as people posted footage of themselves burning and defacing their Nike gear. President Donald Trump also weighed in, criticising Nike’s move in choosing Kaepernick.

The Republican mayor of a city in Louisiana even took the extraordinary step of banning all Nike products from the parks and recreational facilities in the city.

The politically active Kaepernick is a divisive figure in the US for his actions in protesting racial inequality as the national anthem played before games.

The apparent backlash against Nike’s move to feature him now seems a minor blip, however, as calls to boycott the company have proved counterproductive and its sales have surged. The 31% rise came between the Labor Day Sunday to Tuesday and compare favourably with a 17% increase in the same period last year.

“Controversial endorsements tend to generate a lot of hype”: analysts have praised Nike’s Kaepernick deal

Even as social media lit up with fury, however, some industry analysts were confident that Nike’s move would prove a winner in the long-term. While conservatives were disgusted at his selection, others who admired Kapernick’s stance applauded the company and it moved itself squarely into the heart of the news cycle.

“Controversial endorsements tend to generate a lot of hype,” said Marshal Cohen, Chief Industry Analyst for retail at market research firm The NPD Group.

“These kinds of statements and brand partnerships make for a big impact on brand selling.

“In this case, controversy is a good thing to their target market. Consumers who are most likely to shop online, and shop athletic apparel and footwear, are very much in tune with the movement and the willingness for a mega-brand to stand up against the establishment.”

Edison Trends co-founder Hetal Pandya also saw Nike’s move as commercially savvy. “The company understands societal trends and its customer demographics better than most,” she said. “It’s a calculated risk, but one that our data shows has had a positive impact so far in terms of online sales.”

President Donald Trump may have inadvertently helped Nike’s cause by drawing attention to the company. “What was Nike thinking?” he tweeted on 7 September. Two days earlier, he had opined that “Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts.”

“I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?” his tweet continued.

Nike has often taken a stand on social issues

There is precedent for both Kaepernick’s protests translating to commercial value and Nike’s willingness to insert itself into politically charged debates.

Kaepernick began making the protests in August 2016. By the next month, his jersey had become the highest-selling jersey of any player in the NFL.

Nike has made a number of political statements through its products and advertising campaigns. It recently previously produced an athletic hijab, earning both praise and condemnation.

It also won acclaim for tackling the AIDS epidemic with its 1995 campaign featuring openly gay and HIV-positive runner Ric Munoz. Later campaigns have featured athletes with disabilities and dealt with issues of gender and racial inequality.

Kaepernick is also now selling an #ImWithKap jersey through his website. 20% of the earnings from the jersey will be donated to Know Your Rights Camp, a campaign which Kaepernick funds that aims to teach youth self-empowerment and their rights when interacting with police.