Is it possible that Nike included Colin Kaepernick in their new campaign because it was the right thing to do?
I am not suggesting here that we support Colin Kaepernick and his social cause ... or those who vehemently oppose him and other NFL players who have protested during the national anthem. Both have the freedom to express their views in a peaceful manner. That is what makes this country great. However, I am writing this blog post for a different reason. You see, it always seems that when controversy surrounds “big corporations” like Nike they are automatically vilified by the public as only carrying about the almighty dollar.
I have heard numerous media outlets and countless social media posts suggesting that Nike's sole motivation for their 30th anniversary campaign featuring the likes of Kaepernick, Serena Williams and other athletes was all about money. Some in the media have suggested that Nike doesn’t care about the rights of athletes but that they only care about the end result: financial gain. This is something we refer to as Deontology vs. Consequentialism.
Higher Ground and TVI continue to preach the practice of deontology (doing what is intuitively right based on your values or ethics) and not allowing the ends to justify the means (which is consequentialism).
Yes, most marketing efforts are designed to either directly or indirectly help companies succeed, but they are not always done with immediate financial gain as the sole purpose. Many companies are committed to their core values and use them as the ultimate guide for making key corporate decisions. These companies tend to have a longer-term agenda that is more about sustainable growth than short-term monetary gain. Do you think Nike acted for financial reasons or stayed true to their purpose regardless of the consequences?
This isn't likely to be a financial boon to Nike even though they have posted strong sales in the immediate aftermath. There are thousands of Nike customers that have already pledged to walk from the brand and purchase similar products from Adidas or Under Armor. However, there are many who feel Nike did the right thing. And that will deepen their loyalty to the brand and strengthen their sense of shared values. It is courageous in today's business world for a publicly held company to overtly do something that could jeopardize the next quarter's financials just to stay committed to your core values. For that, we commend Nike.
This campaign really isn't any departure from their past. They have often used their marketing to promote athletes’ rights. You might remember the campaign they did over a decade ago that asked us to imagine what it would be like if jogging were illegal in effort to promote skateboarder rights. They depicted joggers being chased and hassled by law enforcement and being judged by onlookers as common criminals. The ads simply signed off with "What if we treated all athletes the way we treat skateboarders."
This campaign was critically acclaimed by the marketing world and certainly did not cause a public outcry. In this anniversary campaign, Nike features skateboarder Lacey Baker with a caption “It is only a crazy dream until you do it.” Also included in the campaign is the NFL's first one handed player, Seattle Seahawks linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who is an amputee.
Nike’s action is different than Papa John's now-removed founder John Schnatter speaking out on issues that represent his personal political agenda. That agenda had never been part of their brand. It is even different from Chik-fil-A’s president publicly opposing gay marriage, which may be in line with the brand's religious-inspired values but was still a personal statement. In Nike’s case it was not CEO Mark Parker taking a stand on a controversial subject, it was the brand itself taking a stand … and a very familiar one at that.
Nike isn't a perfect company. They have had their own manufacturing and labor issues. They may or may not gain financially from this marketing effort. But it is apparent to me that this was done consistent with the values they have built a very successful brand around. If you stay true to your values and purpose, you don’t debate the possible consequences, you just do it.