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How Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad explains branding in the post-Trump era

Nike announced on Monday that the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign would star Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who famously began kneeling during the national anthem in order to protest police brutality, igniting a national conversation about race, sports, and the meaning of patriotism.


The ad, which features a close-up of Kaepernick’s face and the tagline “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” was met with praise from fellow Nike athletes like LeBron James and Serena Williams, as well as former CIA Director John Brennan. That “everything” refers to Kaepernick’s professional football career — following his departure from the San Francisco 49ers, he was essentially blackballed from the NFL for his political demonstrations.


The ad was also met with backlash, including a boycott, a trending Twitter hashtag, and viral tweets of customers cutting the Nike swoosh off of their stuff. Meanwhile, Fox News host Tucker Carlson called the campaign “an attack on the country,” while others took issue with the term “sacrifice,” suggesting instead that the campaign should have gone to Pat Tillman, the NFL player who left the league to enlist in the Army in 2002 and was killed in Afghanistan.


Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick in its campaign is part of a larger trend: Since the 2016 US presidential election, brands — once terrified of controversy — are more and more likely to enter the realm of politics. There’s never been a more popular time to be a brand with an opinion.

And the Kaepernick ad seems to be the result of an essential lesson from the past two years of brands attempting to take a stand in their advertisements: It actually takes a stand.


-Photo via Nike

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