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The upside of alienation: Nike's power

  • Opinion
  • September 13, 2018
  • Graham Medcalf
The upside of alienation: Nike's power

The backlash to Nike’s new Colin Kaepernick campaign on social media would make a casual observer believe that Nike’s marketing team has made a fundamental mistake in going political, particularly at the height of the most divisive cultural war in U.S. history since the civil war of the 1860’s.

For those who have been living under a rock, Kaepernick, decided not to stand (took a knee) for the national anthem to protest racial injustice, in 2016.

Nike’s new campaign makes him a hero: “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

“Nike shares fall as backlash erupts over new ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick,” scream the headlines.

So, it must be a poor decision. Well no, actually. It seems to me to be a very astute understanding of Nike’s target market.

Anyone with a basic understanding of the demographic distribution and voting patterns in the United States will realise that the disposable income required to be a Nike advocate and multiple item purchaser, lies in the East and West coast states of America.

The rust belt voters who put Trump into office don’t have that much money. The loss of market share from the few who burn their Nike sneakers in the mid-west are more than made up for by the affluent left-leaning prospects for Nike footwear and apparel on the coast.

According to a report by Edison Trends, an advertising research firm, following a brief decline, Nike’s online sales grew to 31 percent in the United States’ Labour Day weekend – an improvement on the 17 percent increase seen in the same time period last year.

And closer to home, Zavy’s tracking of the reception to the new campaign shows Nike has been mentioned 323 times in comments on New Zealand media Facebook pages. Eleven percent of the mentions have been positive, while 14 percent have been negative and 76 percent neutral.

Nike has followed the money and decided to ‘Just do it’. Once the share market understands this the shares will rebound as market share soars. If I was Adidas, Puma or Under Armour in America, I’d be nervous right now.

The lesson for marketers? Don’t be scared to alienate the few to delight the many. Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing – not necessarily everything – but at least something.

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