- Nike CEO Mark Parker said there has been "record engagement with the brand" as a result of a highly visible Just Do It campaign featuring free agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick and other athletes. The comments come from a transcript of Nike's conference call with analysts to discuss its fiscal 2019 Q1 results.
- Following its launch earlier this month, the 30th anniversary Just Do It campaign received strong positive and negative responses from consumers as a result of Kaepernick's involvement in a protest that saw some NFL players kneel during the national anthem at games. The campaign's inspirational message has "connected with people around the world," Parker said during the call.
- The Kaepernick ad almost didn't happen because executives didn't want to anger the NFL by maintaining a relationship with the player, according to a report this week from The New York Times, citing individuals with knowledge of the discussions. The company decided that being able to engage a young, urban market was worth the risk of undermining its relationship with the football league.
In a year when brands are being urged to take risks with their marketing, both in messaging and placement, Nike's new Just Do It campaign stands out because of its ability to break through in big way by featuring a controversial brand ambassador. It is apparent from the Times report that several marketers inside Nike were willing to take the risk that the Kaepernick ad would anger the NFL — a powerful organization that helps marketers reach a large and passionate audience — shedding light on the internal process for bringing the campaign to life for the first time and underscoring how risky marketing requires brave marketers.
Marketers face a number of challenges these days, including breaking through in a cluttered media landscape and figuring out how to engage younger consumers, who are weary of traditional ads, craving authenticity and expecting brands to stand for something. In this environment, Burger King has found success over the past few years by turning pop culture moments into breakthrough advertising by hijacking media platforms like Google Home or movie theaters, often to the chagrin of those platforms. The chain has clearly stated that these efforts are driving results for the brand.
Nike's risk also appears to be a success, according to third-party research on sales. Parker's comments this week are an early internal look at how Nike itself perceives the campaign's impact, with the executive calling out how it has driven increases in traffic and engagement for social media and commerce as well as given the brand an international boost.
The Just Do It campaign also serves as an example of how Nike brings together sport and style, which was apparent in another recent collaboration with a controversial athlete, Serena Williams, at the U.S. Open, Parker noted.
"As I said before, it's not lifestyle versus performance or fashion versus sports, the consumer continues to be inspired by seeing those worlds come together," Parker said.