$43m in buzz? That’s not what Nike is about

There has been a great deal of commentary and discussion amongst both fans and the media surrounding the latest Nike advertising campaign featuring controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick.

Even Bloomberg waded in, putting a US$43 million value on the discussion so far, in an article which included views from the current US President, a former President and a former CIA director!

I think they are missing the point.  

Having worked with Nike for seven years in a previous role, I understand the brand, the business, its marketing and its customers.

Allow me to explain what is going on here via the use of a few of the official Nike Maxims. There are 11 Maxims that anyone who works with or for Nike are encouraged to embrace.

Maxim 0:8 Do the right thing.

Nike have never shied away from controversial figures. Sometimes to their detriment (Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius), sometimes not (John McEnroe, Tiger Woods). For them it is about embracing the truth and being transparent, regardless of the reaction of others. I genuinely believe that they did not choose Kaepernick to feature in their ads because he would create a media storm; they chose him because he is an athlete who will act as a symbol of their values.

Maxim 0:10 We are on the offense. Always.

“If we can’t lead it, we don’t need it” is another truism of the organisation. Nike doesn’t share marketing platforms with other brands, preferring to own them outright or create them themselves. As we saw in the recent #breaking2 initiative, an attempt to break the two hour marathon record for the first time, which they called a ‘moonshot’.

Maxim 0:5 The consumer decides.

What Nike do is pick their spots and invest resource where it will have most impact with the people they wish to serve. So if some customers burn Nike trainers because of their endorsement of Kaepernick’s belief (which they have), they don’t care. They would rather have deep, meaningful relationships with a few, than indifferent relationships with the masses. This association and campaign will have deepened connections with loyal customers as much as it will have lost disloyal customers.

Maxim 0:3 Nike is a brand.

This might seem blindingly obvious, indeed some might say Nike is the ultimate brand. What they mean is that they stay true to who they are, only entering into something if they can be the best at it, insisting on total immersion and investment. Take their approach to retail (flagship Nike stores now rotate entire floor designs on a monthly basis) and other owned channels like their website and loyalty program Nike+. They are all best-in-class, innovative, rewarding experiences. They even try and control their presence in third-party aggregated retail environments (hard to achieve).

For Nike, it isn’t about generating controversy. The fact they have generated so much attention, is merely a byproduct of being an authentic brand. For Nike, it’s about being true to who they are, supporting the athletes who represent their brand and building sustainable, long-term customer-serving platforms which they 100 per cent own and control.

Jonathan Hopkins is a founding partner of Sonder, the global authority on owned media leverage. He has led marketing teams, agencies and media owners. He was previously CMO for Vevo and managing director of strategic communications agency, Razor. Jonathan’s work has been awarded at Cannes, Media Festival Asia, MFA and M&M Europe.


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