“Just Do It”: The Nike Campaign That Causes Distress

With Nike’s Colin Kaepernick campaign, Nike is embracing their new role in activism and racial justice at a time when most companies can no longer ignore the nation’s political divide. After years of building a multi billion-dollar brand around sports celebrities, Nike is becoming the shoe and apparel maker that finds itself in the political, racial, and cultural clash that is surrounding the United States of America.

This might cause more clash in the short term, but I think Nike has made a calculated move to center their products and campaign to an audience of minority backgrounds. Nike figured out that its core consumers are the people who regularly buy sneakers and clothes as a political stance. Millennials who are Black, Hispanic, Asian, or Middle Eastern are driving their sales. Most of them either already support Kaepernick’s stance on racial injustice or at least don’t mind buy Nike apparel over the stance he is taking.

Nike have been careful not to go into real politics, because of their chance to lose consumers. What Michael Jordan reportedly said, “Republicans buy shoes, too,” was famously symbolized by Nike. Michael Jordan and others in his time were thrilled to get a huge paycheck, but the younger generation of athletes are going farther by using their sneakers as a platform to promote social justice.

To drive the nail into the coffin, Nike’s biggest representatives, LeBron James and Serena Williams, spoke  out about police brutality and similar problems in the black community. Those athletes are using this ad as a form of expression. James’ “Equality” Nike signature shoe was unveiled earlier this year, with the word printed across the back of his shoes.

Other athletes in recent years have worn shoes with messages of past inequalities for Trayvon Martin and Eric Gardner. Such statements could become more common next season after this new campaign, relaxing the rules over the types of shoes athletes can wear. It has already straddled the entertainment and cultural industries for years, partly with their significance in hip-hop culture. Think back to the time Michael Jordan was being fined for wearing his Nike’s sponsored original red and black Air Jordans on the court. This moment started a billion-dollar industry and the cultural change to appeal to minorities and youth communities as well as to America’s conservative majority.

People who support the conservative majority have blasted the NFL for allowing players to follow Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem to protest police shootings of black people, so it’s no surprise they’re turning against Nike after making him one of their main spokesmen. Nike wants to be on the right side of history and on the right side of their consumers.

As a clothing and shoe maker, Nike have always had a back-and-forth relationship with their consumers. As their business grew, black athletes became spokesmen and spokeswomen, yet people questioned how much they invested financially in urban communities, compared to how much they made by exploiting black trends.

The relationship became staples of black fashion, and urban youth sought to imitate Michael Jordan, Penny Hardaway, and other iconic figures associated with basketball and hip-hop culture. Nikes came to symbolize status and street credibility. Sneakerheads lined up outside stores, sometimes days before its release, to get the latest shoes.

Companies have made millions off of following trends from the black community, and so Nike had to emphasize their feelings of minorities. This eventually spread to other racial communities as Nike took on one or two incidents for shoes and other apparel to be sold, so they are aware of the all of the cultural exchanges and trends that are going on.

Nike now finds itself in a position on the other side of the political space as some consumers cut up and burn their products over the company’s decision to make Colin Kaepernick the face of their 30th anniversary campaign. If pairs of shoes are set on fire with a cigarette lighter and captured on video to share online to protest a political statement for kneeling during the national anthem, then Nike won’t be backing down anytime soon as their campaign highlighted Kaepernick during NFL’s halftime season opener.

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