Professor Jesse Rice-Evans
The selected artifact is a recent Nike advertisement featuring a black and white headshot of former San Francisco 49er quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, behind small white text reading, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The bottom of the bottom included Nike’s trademarked check mark and slogan “Just do it.” A prominent iteration of the advertisement was displayed on a San Francisco billboard, and has since accumulated over 80 million views on social media platforms, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Given the fact that the advertisement was paid for by Nike, Nike is the rhetor of the artifact. Nike has long been regarded as a trusted brand of sports gear and streetwear, and is popular among professional athletes, amateurs, and average shoppers across all age groups.
Nike has endorsed some of the world’s most notable athletes such as Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods, however, the Kaepernick advertisement marks an important deviation from Nike’s general endorsement of professional athletes. Indeed, Kaepernick played for the National Football League, one of the most recognized sports brands in the country, however, Kaepernick, no longer plays for the NFL and his professional athletic career is not expected to be revived. In fact, it is widely agreed, his talents as a quarterback, while certainly once world-class, are no longer remarkable among current NFL players. However, what makes Kaepernick a relevant figure, is his position as a civil rights activist. Kaepernick made national headlines when he kneeled during the national anthem, sparking outrage from conservative groups and admiration from minority groups who believe the current establishment continues to discriminate against them. Therefore, Nike’s advertisement, given the reason for Kaepernick’s current celebrity, in conjunction with the advertisement’s text, should be understood as a political message.
Nike’s advertisement comes in at or near the peak of a recent resurgence of liberalism in America. The black lives matter and #metoo movements have become important reminders of social progress our country has yet to make. While these movements have been countered by hateful right-wing groups, there are indeed legitimate concerns over police safety and false accusations. Nike’s advertisement appears to play into the sympathies of the left-leaning movement, and are doing so at a time where opposition to conservativism, especially following the election of Donald Trump, has become most vocalized.
Given the political nature of the advertisement, Nike’s history as a premiere sports brand is not entirely relevant. While having significant credibility in terms of its gear, Nike has not necessarily proven itself as a staunch political advertising group. Therefore, Nike’s credibility, in terms of its position as a herald of political competence is at least up for debate. Additionally, given Nike’s position as a profit-seeking company, the goals of its message are increasingly suspect. A publicly traded company such as Nike as a primary responsibility of maximizing shareholder equity, so any of its actions must considered within a profit-seeking framework.
Nike’s decision to create this advertisement was certainly a major risk for the brand. Ironically, but likely not entirely inadvertently, the advertisement’s main text, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” juxtaposes Nike’s decision to run the ad to Kaepernick’s own risk. Nike is currently a sponsor of the NFL, and manufactures the jerseys worn by players during professional games. Many NFL team owners, who have powerful sway over the direction of the NFL, including sponsors, have expressed their distaste for players who have followed Kaepernick’s lead and similarly kneeled during the national anthem. Nike’s ad, which is clearly in support of Kaepernick’s decision to kneel, and arguably ruin his NFL career, risked Nike’s relationship with the NFL and millions if not billions of future revenues. Nike’s willingness to sacrifice its relationship with the NFL gives Nike creditworthiness in this politically-driven advertisement, as Nike appears to have risked money in order to cement its political leaning.
Beyond large contracts, such as those with the NFL, Nike’s decision foreseeably soured its relationship with conservative consumers. While left-leaning individuals view Kaepernick as a hero for marginalized groups, especially those who continue to be victims of police brutality, conservative consumers believe kneeling during the national anthem represents a callous disregard and underappreciation of the country’s armed forces who put their lives on the line to defend this country’s freedoms. In fact, after the advertisement’s release, social media was quickly abuzz with images and videos of people destroying their own purchased Nike products, being it cutting the check mark off Nike socks or burning Nike sneakers. Granted, should these customers decide they want to remain Nike customers down the line, they will need to replace their mutilated merchandise with new ones, which would serve as a boon to Nike’s bottom line. Nonetheless, Nike likely foresaw its conservative customer base would not appreciate the advertisement and might turn to other brands such as Under Armor, which has of late become a dominant player in sportswear, especially sports enjoyed by conservative groups such as hunting. Again, given the fact that Nike foreseeably alienated a large portion of its customer base with this advertisement, its credibility as a left-leaning political entity is further solidified.</span></p>
However, Nike’s motives should not be viewed as entirely altruistic. A large segment of Nike’s consumer base are people from urban communities, who have largely held liberal views and would foreseeably be in support of the advertisement. In fact, the decision to place a prominent poster of the advertisement in San Francisco, one of the most trafficked left leaning cities in the country, indicates Nike’s desire to appeal to liberal-minded consumers.<span class=”Apple-converted-space”Clearly, this segment of the population comprises the advertisement’s target audience. While it is not necessarily sneaky and certainly not ill-willed for Nike to play into the favor of left leaning consumers, the financial benefits of doing so detracts from Nike’s advertisement being completely politically driven, as there was the potential for financial benefit.
Much like our country’s consumer base’s reaction to the advertisement, Nike’s decision to run it was divided. Acknowledging the downsides of running the advertisement, in 2017, Nike considered cutting its ties with Kaepernick, and was about to do so until one chief executive successfully convinced his associates to take the risk. While Nike is a single-name entity, its decisions are the amalgam of countless employees. Yet, what they decide to run is ultimately viewed as a unitary decision and opinion, yet it is actually an output of a complicated, multifaceted, and in times such as this one, conflicting, organization of human beings.
It is unclear whether level of education, age, occupation or gender play a strong role in the reactions of the partisan groups, which make up our country today, to the advertisement. Political opinion has become so staunchly polarized, that nothing outside of identity, not even reason, has been able to sway political or even social opinion. The highly educated and less educated, young and old, lawyers and artisans, alike, seem to allow identity politics to dictate their social opinions more than statistics or personal experience. Therefore, it does not appear much can be gleaned from an understanding of the socioeconomics of the target audience, nor those who oppose the advertisement outside of their political leanings.
It appears Nike’s decision to run the advertisement was ultimately rewarded. Nike was applauded as a beacon of progress, and further, its sales have increased noticeably since the ad was run. Granted, it is difficult to dissect the countless factors that go into a multibillion dollar companies sales figures, the increased traffic to Nike-related items can be at least in part be tied to the buzz surrounding the Kaepernick ad. Nike, like Kaeprnick made a political play, and was rewarded for it. It would not be surprising to see Nike and other brands beginning to make footholds in the political arena to solidify its position with certain segments of our country’s population.
This topic was modified 4 years, 6 months ago by Jacob Hakimi.