Nike’s Failed Brand Promise
“Brand Promise” determines how a brand is viewed in the market. (Schultz, 2016).
Nike should keep this in mind as it attempts to pronounce judgement and cancel, through its marketing and branding actions, the opinions and deeply felt emotions of many consumers. Nike has chosen to become a social activism company, catering to a bully culture that includes most of entertainment, media and government leadership. However, when it comes to their own ethics, their actions are perhaps worst of all.
While Nike maintains advertising campaigns that support washed up Athletes that kneel like cowards for the national anthem, they stomp on those who are truly oppressed. They continue to produce cheap products with foreign companies that pay sub-standard wages with sub-standard work conditions (New Idea, 2019).
When a 2016 Nike ad campaign kicked off with an image of Colin Kaepernick, with ad copy spouting “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” (Nike’s Ad and Believing in Something, 2018), no one questioned Nike. By joining the social media bully culture, they were insulated. Yet that same year another super-star, this one in the NBA, Turkish star Enes Kanter, had a true act of sacrifice because of what he believed in. In Kanter’s words “I talked to Nike and they said ‘we want to give Enes a contract, but if we give him one [the Turkish government] will shut down every store in Turkey, so we cannot’… I’m an NBA player with no shoe deal. No endorsement deal. And I play in New York!’ (Enes Kanter is the NBA’s Man of Many Faces, 2018).
Nike’s issues do not end there, nor does the backlash. In 2020 and 2021, when protests that were initially driven by protesters asserting their first amendment rights to point out systemic injustices in various areas of our day to day lives, these events turned violent and deadly, primarily due to the insertion of ANTIFA and BLM agitators. This, of course, is a difficult view to espouse freely, lest one be cancelled. However, BLM as an organization and BLM as a movement of those seeking equality and opportunity, consistent with MLK’s “Dream” speech should be clearly separate – one is a movement that has morphed into a national organization, where the other is a meaningful reminder and motto that make us pause and think about the impact of personal and professional practices moving forward.
BLM as an organization has become rife with conflict and potential corruption. Most of the local BLM operations are struggling for funding, while a BLM co-founder has purchased her 3rd home for cash. The lack of transparency has led to many chapters to break away (Gyamfi & Konadu, 2021). Yet Nike, wanting to jump at the opportunity to represent their support for a large segment of their consumer population, committed $40M to the BLM organization and led an alliance of companies promising $140M over 10 years (Murphy, 2021).
While Nike led the charge with branding activity that focused all efforts on vocal BLM support, they neglected to take into consideration a large population of this country that were skeptical about the BLM organization (not the motto- this is not social commentary). There is a large population of this country that truly believes in equality of races and opportunities. However, many in this position have been put off by being called racist, with cancel culture wishing to censor and silence any discussion. For equality to be embraced by all, punishing the open exchange of ideas is counter-productive. Nike firmly has placed its foot in this trap, and has been hurt by those who now choose to look elsewhere, as is evidence by a YOY comparison of financial indicators, especially around the height of the riots in 2020 (NIKE Revenue 2006-2021 | NKE, 2021).
Nike doesn’t care about public opinion- and this would be where I would recommend a shift in strategy. Looking at how Enes Kanter’s family had to disown him in order to not be killed in Turkey, while Enes espoused his pride in living in the United States and becoming a citizen, Nike should look to sponsoring Kanter.
Nike should focus on issues facing the black community at the local and regional level, demanding to see actual impact of their investment. Providing financial support without a clear expectation of results, and those results being the ACTUAL good that the black community should expect to experience from that investment – the tangible demonstration, is financial negligence.
I have frequently said. perhaps rather than choosing a side in a battle over what patriotism and bravery look like, they should focus on what makes this country stronger. Show the differences in life conditions that a living wage paid in a foreign country can make and recommit to making a difference. Choose athletes who have demonstrated true bravery on the field, on the battlefield, and in their personal lives. Spotlight the heroes that fight for equality and diversity, not divisiveness and discord. Show why this brand uplifts all, not 50% of the country.
Blythe, J. (2014). The philosophy of ethics and the corporate conscience. Social Business, 4(3), 245–253. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1362/204440814X14103454934258
Schultz, H. F. (Practitioner). (2016). Brand management [Video]. SAGE Knowledge. https://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781473988484
Nike’s Ad and Believing in Something. (2018). Anti-Defamation League. https://www.adl.org/resources/tools-and-strategies/nikes-ad-and-believing-in-something
New Idea. (2019, December 11). Nike Sweatshops: The Truth About the Nike Factory Scandal. New Idea. https://www.newidea.com.au/nike-sweatshops-the-truth-about-the-nike-factory-scandal
Enes Kanter is the NBA’s Man of Many Faces. (2018). Vice.com. https://www.vice.com/en/article/gye9g4/the-nbas-man-of-many-faces
Gyamfi, B., & Konadu, K. (2021, September 8). Black Lives Matter: How far has the movement come? The Conversation. https://theconversation.com/black-lives-matter-how-far-has-the-movement-come-165492
Murphy, Y. (2021, June 2). Blackout Tuesday 2020: One year later, what have companies done for Black lives? Vox; Vox. https://www.vox.com/the-goods/22463723/blackout-tuesday-blm-sephora-starbucks-nike-glossier
NIKE Revenue 2006-2021 | NKE. (2021). Macrotrends.net. https://www.macrotrends.net/stocks/charts/NKE/nike/revenue