The new Colin Kaepernick campaign captures the tension between Nike’s values and its reality
Nike ignited a firestorm with the announcement that it has re-signed an endorsement deal with former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. During Thursday night’s Eagles-Falcons game, the company launched its new “Just Do It” ads starring the quarterback best known for being blackballed for popularizing “taking a knee” during the national anthem as a protest of racism in America. The new Kaepernick contract and ad have boosted Nike’s bottom line, while prompting a furious backlash from the president and his followers.
This new campaign fits with Nike’s painstakingly developed image as a forward thinking, innovative company that has evolved from selling sneakers out of co-founder Phil Knight’s trunk nearly half a century ago to promoting sports as an almost spiritual, self-actualizing exercise. Since 1988, the "Just Do It" ads in particular, featuring athletes including jogging folk hero Walt Stack, golfer Tiger Woods, tennis star Serena Williams and groups of girls gaining confidence through sport, have all cultivated this capacious sensibility.
But these inspirational branding efforts have often been out of step with the on-the-ground experience at Nike, where issues of equity have long dogged the corporate giant. Like all corporations, profit propels Nike, but the loftiness of its professed principles makes the disconnect with some of its internal practices seem especially stark.
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