On Sept. 3, Colin Kaepernick tweeted an advertisement of himself as the face of Nike’s newest marketing campaign. Without missing a beat, conservatives ran to their closets and started the ritual destruction of anything they could find with that infamous Nike check on it.
Ever since Donald Trump became more than a rich celebrity, corporations with “liberal” attitudes have had their products destroyed by angry conservatives on the internet. Remember when people were throwing their Keurig coffee makers off of balconies? Or when Starbucks started the “war on Christmas” by having plain red holiday cups instead of the usual festive Christmas designs?
I’m a big fan of Kaepernick and the awareness he has brought to the struggles of African Americans in this country by kneeling during the national anthem at a NFL game in 2016. But after the announcement of Kaepernick as the new face of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, I can’t stop thinking about what happens when corporations worth billions of dollars use controversial social movements in their marketing campaigns.
In the days following this announcement, Nike’s online sales went up 31 percent compared to last years Labor Day weekend sales.
Nike is obviously not the first corporation to try and make bank off exploiting a social movement. Just look at Pepsi’s epic fail in 2017 with the Kendall Jenner commercial.
In case you don’t remember, the commercial was essentially showing scenes from a big peaceful protest where Kendall Jenner was at a photoshoot nearby. When the protesters reach a wall of police they stand still, unsure of what to do, until Jenner comes down and hands a cop a Pepsi and all’s right with the world again. The commercial was posted on YouTube and deleted the next day after overwhelming criticism.
That was the year the Women’s Marches started, along with many Black Lives Matter protests. Pepsi was hoping they could fill a commercial with diverse people at a trendy protest with a well-liked celebrity and sell a bunch of Pepsi to a generation of “woke” youth.
Pepsi made the crucial mistake of using an out of touch celebrity to make their point. Nike did it better by using a celebrity that started a social movement himself.
While I really like that Nike took a chance on endorsing a controversial athlete and giving him a platform, I can’t help but cringe at their motives. Nike is not a role model corporation.
During the 80’s and 90’s underage workers faced brutal conditions in Nike sweatshops in Indonesia, Vietnam and China. In 1997, Nguyen Thi Thu Phuong died making a pair of Nike shoes in Vietnam. The corporation’s cold response was, “we don’t make shoes.” Nike was not shy when it came to crushing anti-sweatshop protests in the 90’s, so why the sudden change of heart at Nike? Are these NFL protests just trendy enough that it’s worth the calculated risk to their bottom line?
Nike is marketing itself as a benevolent corporation with good intentions that messed up in the 90’s. I don’t think they could care less about what Kaepernick stands for. He is simply an athlete who has become an instantly recognizable icon; the perfect face for a “Just Do It” campaign.
What I want to say through all of this is don’t be proud of Nike. They aren’t doing anything new to help black lives in America. Endorsing Kaepernick has done nothing but boost their sales and help their corporate image. Just remember, they are still heavily endorsed by the NFL who have opposed Kaepernick’s kneeling protests since the beginning.
Be proud of Lebron James who opened a public school in Akron, Ohio for at-risk kids. Be proud of Chance the Rapper for donating $1 million to Chicago’s public schools.
Yes, by endorsing Kaepernick Nike has broadened Kaepernick’s platform for his message, and that is a good thing. So, be proud of Kaepernick who took a real leap of faith by kneeling for what he believes in on national TV, before anyone else had the courage to kneel for black lives.