I remember it like yesterday. Kaepernick, at the time Quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, took a major stance. In 2016, he started to kneel for the pre-game national anthem in protest at racial injustice in the United States. #TakeAKnee emerged organically from NFL players, before growing into a social justice movement.
Prof T.G. recently asked the students about their favorite Marketing campaigns. The question was quite straightforward. Only later I realized that I may have misunderstood it.For whatever reason, I didn’t consider my ‘favorite campaign’ but the campaign that touched me the most. Unconsciously, I had a desire to connect emotionally to this answer. I asked myself… why is this the case?
Nike’s ‘Dream Crazy’ advert starring Colin Kaepernick did it for me. It moved me truly. It inspires me. All over again.
Since this article had an educational purpose let’s visit the literature’s definition of Marketing.McKenna (1991), one of many who dared to define the term ’Marketing,’ claimed that Marketing is everything. I would agree that it is everything, and in fact everywhere. However, this may not help the uncovering of Nike's timeless Marketing.
Scholars can’t seem to agree on a single definition, still, they do have similar outlooks. Let’s dissect another definition. Perhaps this may shine a light on Nike’s method.
“It is an ongoing process through which contests with an uncertain outcome are staged creating opportunities for the simultaneous fulfilment of direct and indirect objectives among sport consumers, sport businesses, and other related individuals and organizations.” (Chadwick & Beech, 2007, p. 4f.)
A long definition, I know. Yet, there’s so much hiding within Marketing, so who’s to blame for such an extensive description? Let me break it down.
Nike has comprehended Marketing as an ongoing process. Even after decades, Nike is still relevant — in all their communications. Nike’s Marketing is contemporary. I would even argue that the drive for ongoing process leads to constant innovation. Nike never stops modernizing. Having the most popular athletes under their campaigns (at all times), speaks for itself.
Uncertain outcome are staged creating opportunities. Such as this one. The outcome of backing Kaepernick publicly was uncertain. Even more so it was risky. Like any protest, it takes time to be understood. The message needs to flow through the media and into the public. At first, Kaepernick was harshly criticized for disrespecting the flag. How would the patriotic Americans react if Nike sponsored such an athlete? Even for the mega brands of Nike, taking a political stance is dangerous.
Nevertheless, Nike continued supporting Kaepernick without being sure of the consequence. Even more so, Nike made use of this relevant issue. A mix of relevance and risk created an opportunity.President Donald Trump couldn't resist and joined the debate blasting those who followed Kaepernick. The media cherished it and accelerated this story. Nike’s sponsored athlete just became the hottest topic.
While the world spoke about Kaepernick’s protest, Nike played its next trick. Nike didn’t just publicly back Kaepernick, but they feature him in the newest campaign. More so, he was the face of it. Kaepernick was narrating a story. And alongside him, the best athletes in the world. A story to follow your dreams — even if they’re crazy.
Nike’s approach to storytelling is unparalleled. They inspire. Nike has been marketing from the ‘storyteller’ playbook for decades, and the iconic Kaepernick campaign is no exception. But what’s their secret sauce? What gives us goosebumps watching their commercials? After being asked about my favorite, campaign, how was theirs the first thing that came to my mind?
The answer simple; Nike makes you their hero. Through heroism, Nike has connected to you. Psychologically. Emotionally. You end up “Believing in something — even if it means sacrificing everything”(quotes from the Kaepernick video).
Don’t be fooled, this is an ongoing process for Nike. They use the tactic constantly. For instance, Nike won’t focus on the product it markets, but instead, it will seed the idea that you can become a better athlete by wearing Nike. Get it? Nike touches you. And after seeing the Nike Running commercial, you feel that you can run a full marathon. I know. I have been there myself.
Enough… let’s leave the emotions aside.
Like every campaign, Marketing has direct objectives. No doubt this campaign did, too. However, more interesting are the indirect objectives. Sure, Nike is permanently trying to maximize profits and sell their apparel. Yet, their approach is subtle. Indirect Marketing is chosen, instead of a pushy sales strategy.
Sparing you of another definition, indirect marketing can be summarized into: ‘Not trying to sell you something aggressively.’ So, instead of increasing sales directly, Nike wants to increase brand awareness, reinforce the image of sponsoring top athletes, or simply entertain you. Pick whichever. Nike engages the customer and forms a bond. Nike trusts that the customer will ultimately act upon this connection.
Such Indirect objectives are tough to measure, however, I’m wrapping up by confirming just a couple more facts about this campaign.
The Guardian reported Nike sales surged 31% just days after Colin Kaepernick’s ad unveiled. Every customer who stood behind Nike at the time took an even stronger position. Then, according to CBS, this ad resulted in a nearly 5 percent stock increase, adding nearly $6 billion to the company’s market value. The argument can be made that not only customers took a stance behind Nike, but so did the employees and investors.
While ‘storytelling’ is the norm in today’s Marketing campaigns, Nike has proven to be ahead. Once again. This is an ongoing process. Nike innovatively connects to its consumers. By ‘creating opportunities of direct and indirect objectives’ Nike manages to be relevant. Timeless bonds are crafted and emotional engagement is the result.