“Just do it”. Three words, eight characters and, for my money, the best advertising tagline ever.
Penned in 1988 by advertising guru Dan Wieden, the slogan has generated billions of dollars of revenue for Nike and right now it’s going viral on social media all while its products go up in smoke.
Why? Because it’s placed Colin Kaepernick, a 30-year-old quarterback without a backer among the NFL’s 32 teams, front, middle and centre of its new advertising campaign. ‘Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything’, appears to have resonated with millions of prospective consumers.
It was Kaepernick, remember, who famously took a knee during the national anthem back in 2016 in a peaceful protest against police brutality and social injustice. It was a principled stand, which led to black American athletes following suit at NFL games as the protest spread to basketball and baseball – even when threatened with financial penalties. Predictably, it was met with fury from Republicans and, of course, President Donald Trump, who denounced it as “unpatriotic”!
Since then Kaepernick, a talented quarterback who triggered an opt-out clause in his contract with San Francisco 49ers, has found himself a pariah, without a throwing gig.
While Nike, a multinational with an annual turnover $35bn, is being warmly applauded for its backing of Kaepernick by media commentators, social influencers and Nike-sponsored superstars Serena Williams and Odell Beckham Jnr, you shouldn’t forget the audience they’re really focusing on; consumers.
Nike, as if you need reminding, are no socially aware dilettantes. They’re one of the biggest brands on Earth and had done exhaustive market research before embarking on their divisive ad campaign. Their footwear and apparel are bought by a larger share of blacks and Hispanics – which make up 27.2 per cent of the US population (88.6m of its 325m residents) – than any other minority and their key age demographic is 18-34, where consumers are more likely to be digitally active. In one fell swoop – or should that be swoosh – Nike are regaining their cool, to keep Under Armour and adidas at arm’s length.
Politics and sport are a potent mix and it won’t have been lost on them that Beto O’Rourke, the charismatic politician aiming to trump Ted Cruz to the US Senate in Texas, generated over 44m views with his articulate reasoning over Kaepernick’s stance, so much so that he’s being viewed as the Democrat’s Obama-in-waiting. For Nike, it was simply an opportunity too good to pass up.
So far, so good, too. The furore is said to have generated $43m worth of media exposure in its first 24 hours, memes are being shared globally and the first TV ad – 125 seconds of emotive, inclusive advertising brilliance – will air at tonight’s NFL opener. To amplify their message, Trump, unsurprisingly, has re-entered the debate tweeting the company is getting ‘killed with anger and boycotts’.
Well, yippee-ki-yay, Nike’s advertising execs must be dancing a merry jig.
Thirty years on, Wieden must be chuckling into his cocoa.