They Just Did It: How Nike Just Changed Corporate Activism

Nike's new campaign is a bold act of corporate resistance against a puerile president—and a rallying cry for others to follow suit.


On August 26, 2016, NFL athlete Colin Kaepernick remained seated while the Star Spangled Banner played, to raise awareness of the institutionalized racism endemic at law-enforcement agencies across the United States. This week, in the most incendiary example to date of the “brands taking stands” movement, Nike anointed him its public face.

The surge in corporate activism dominated this year’s edition of our Top Stakeholder Engagement Trends report, and in the subsequent months, the trend – 3BL’s John Howell calls it a “movement” – has accelerated:

  • American Airlines asked Homeland Security to not use its flights to transport migrant children who had been forcibly separated from their families. Frontier, United, and Southwest followed suit.

  • This week, Levi Strauss and Co. partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety to launch a coalition of business leaders calling for an end to gun violence in America. The company will also direct more than $1 million over four years to the cause.

  • A swarm of other firms have joined in, including Bank of the West, Starbucks, Walmart, Patagonia, REI, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Salesforce, and Chobani.

Nike does not make rash moves; this decision almost certainly reflects a careful business calculus. While its support of Kaepernick will alienate some customers, the company concluded that it will score enough points with its core urban, global, and socially conscious customers to more than recapture the revenue.

Nike’s Just Do It commercial featuring Colin Kaepernick.

While much of the news coverage focused on the initial dip in its stock price, Nike can easily weather this market storm. Some investors have been snatching up the stock. On Robinhood, a no-fee brokerage platform with a heavy millennial user base, investors are buying Nike’s stock 300 percent more than they are selling it.

Citing an Apex Marketing Group estimate, Bloomberg reports that the company has to date captured $43 million worth of earned media from the move, and each presidential tweet increases that figure. The Swoosh has faced much controversy this year over sexual harassment and inequity in gender pay, which likely dinged employee morale. This move – and the backlash – will boost retention in its millennial workforce and help attract more talent. And inspire other companies to follow suit.

Kaepernick’s symbolic act raised awareness of the institutional racism that is holding this country back from the potential that comes when all citizens are truly equal. The quarterback’s action profoundly challenges President Trump and the numerous crony sycophants surrounding him. I remain impressed with Nike. With this advertisement, a globally respected American brand is resisting a puerile president who discredits the rule of law and freedom of speech that are pillars of our democracy and nation.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.


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