Nike’s 30th anniversary campaign has made waves. The advertisement features a black and white close up image of former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, overlaid with the words, “Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything.” Directly below this statement is Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It.”

Illustration By Lo Wall

Kaepernick, who was ousted from the NFL after repeatedly kneeling during the National Anthem in protest, is quoted on the NFL’s website saying in 2016 he chose to do so because he is “not going to stand up to show pride in a flag or country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

To him, “this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on [his] part to look the other way.  There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” Nike has spent billions over the past 30 years to, “build a brand that’s synonymous with rebellion,” according to Vox.  One of their previous campaigns highlighted an observant Muslim female-athlete, a departure from the typical sports branding oversaturated with conventional male images.

As a small liberal bubble situated in the middle of the nation’s fourth most conservative city, sentiments towards the Kaepernick campaign on the Colorado College campus are generally positive.  “I think it’s cool that Nike is kind of taking a stand with him and kind of showing other people that aren’t for his stance,” said Isabel Mansour ’22.  “He has a peaceful stance against police brutality … I mean, I don’t know if I would go out of my way to buy their products because of it, but I was never opposed to them to begin with, and I’m definitely not now.”

Julia Meyersiek ‘22 agreed with Mansour. “I just think it’s nice that even though Nike is such a big brand, it likes to take stands politically, even though they might get backlash from it, from more conservative people, I guess,” said Meyersiek. “It’s a big enough brand that it has the power to do something like that and actually persuade other people to take a stance politically as well. [Nike is] using its platform pretty well.”

  Jacob Belgrad ‘21 mentioned that while Kaepernick should’ve been paid and supported by his former team, the San Francisco 49ers, it’s a good thing that Nike is standing up for him. “It’s an American right to protest, and while the flag should be respected, kneeling in a way is a form of respect, respect for the kind of country the United States could and should be,” Belgrad said.

When asked what Colorado Springs locals might think of the campaign, Mansour replied, “I think it just depends.  There is a lot of military [in the Springs]; with the Air Force Academy and whatnot there are a lot of veterans, but then again, there’s a lot of veterans who support what Kaepernick has done. So, it’s hard to make assumptions about what they are going to believe. I’m assuming that if they have more conservative views then they might be against it.”

Despite powerful figures such as President Donald Trump publicly boycotting the brand, the campaign has proven highly profitable for Nike.  In what financial analyst Camilo Lyon called a “stroke of genius,” Nike product orders jumped 27 percent in four days, despite an initial three percent drop in shares the day following the release of the campaign. Additionally, Nike received over $43 million worth of media exposure, most of which was positive or neutral, according to Time Magazine. 

Forbes journalist Bob Cook says that Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick in its campaign reflects Nike’s need to stay relevant and favorable with the 18- to 29-year-old crowd. “It can’t be on the side of grumpy, old, white vice presidents walking out of NFL games on their boss’s orders to grandstand over players using the national anthem as an occasion to protest inequality,” said Cook.

Furthermore, Vox identifies Nike’s strategy of going after “young, wealthy, and urban buyers,” through focusing its marketing in rich cities with growing millennial and Generation Z populations.  “Young people living in big cities in the United States like Los Angeles and New York — cities that are generally more racially and ethnically diverse than the areas surrounding them — are also supportive of Kaepernick’s protest efforts and opposed to Trump, tending to be more left-leaning in general,” said Vox reporter Jane Coaston. “That means that for companies like Nike, appealing to them — and not to their parents or to their Republican-voting older neighbor — makes sense.”

Colorado College students make up a small part of the demographic that Nike is targeting with the campaign.  Especially as a place that is increasingly investing in creating an anti-racist campus environment, Kaepernick and his message generally hold favor among the CC community.

Erica Williams

Erica Williams

Erica has been reporting for the Catalyst since her freshman year. She is a history-poly-sci and REMs double major. Interestingly, her grandfather fixed Einstein's furnace.

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