Opinion

Controversial Colin Kaepernick ad: Nike was right to just do it

With recent global and SA-based campaigns, Nike is proving an important marketing theory about woke capitalism: loving brave black people works

09 September 2018 - 00:00


In the olden days, long before fax machines were newfangled, marketing campaigns were like ice-cream vans. They made an annoying noise outside your gate and excited your kids, but could be ignored without too much effort.
These days, however, so many entities are competing for our attention on so many different platforms that only looking directly at the sun will keep your eyes from stumbling across a campaign to sell you something.
Recently Nike showed that if you pay attention to the zeitgeist, winning the competition Olympics can be a piece of low-carb red velvet cake.
This week Nike marked the 30th anniversary of its "Just Do It" campaign by deploying an impressive amount of big-dick energy. To understand why, one needs to understand the story of Colin Kaepernick.
Two years ago, in protest against police brutality, American footballer Kaepernick began kneeling when the national anthem was sung before games. He did this after consulting a former member of the US armed forces about how best to show respect for the troops while still registering disapproval.
At first people either didn't notice or care, but it didn't take long for the US's shit-stirrer-in-chief, Donald Trump, to breathe life into a coded racist maelstrom of controversy that has yet to die down.
As a result of his protest, Kaepernick's team let him go, the National Football League imposed fines on players engaging in similar protests and the league became embroiled in an ongoing court case about whether or not it is blackballing the player. The news cycle became clogged with vitriol about players' protest rights, respecting the flag and everything except why US cops enjoy shooting unarmed black people so much.
Most companies would not want a man with this much baggage as the face of their campaign. Most companies are not Nike.
This week the brand revealed Kaepernick as the face of its "Just Do It" anniversary campaign, to near-unanimous applause from the nonracist sections of social media. This comes off the back of the viral success it had with its recent Serena Williams campaigns, and in conjunction with a local campaign starring Caster Semenya.
Nike's campaigns are generating so much goodwill that we are all likely to forget about the sweatshops its products are allegedly made in for another few decades. More importantly, though, they have proved a very important hypothesis: loving black people works.
One doesn't have to be overly political about it, but turning a blind eye to the politics of situations is how you end up with H&M's "coolest monkey in the jungle". With all three Nike campaigns there is a tacit acknowledgement that the system is unfair - and that is a fantastic stall to sell go-faster shoes from.
The messaging is simple: want to be like the most decorated tennis player of all time, who holds the title despite being drug-tested way more than her counterparts, maligned for almost every aspect of her appearance and older than one ought to be considering her dominance? Buy Nike.
Want to emulate a woman who, despite the best efforts of her sports governing body, is accruing more gold than a rapper with unlimited credit? Buy Nike.
Want to stand for something even if it costs everything? Buy Nike.
As a general rule, big brands are risk-averse. They tend to be as edgy as butter knives because the reputational risk is high. Three decades after it first introduced the world to the slogan, Nike has shown that sometimes you've got to just do it.

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