Nike is adding new meaning to purpose-driven marketing with the rollout of its “Just Do It” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick during the NFL season opener on Wednesday, Sept. 5.

Despite the backlash and controversy surrounding the former 49ers quarterback, the campaign has garnered national attention with Nike receiving more than $43 million worth of media exposure in less than 24 hours since the first spot reveal by Kaepernick on Twitter.

“Nike is not new to making bold statements, but this has to be one of, if not, the boldest moves,” said Yadira Harrison, co-founder of marketing consultancy Verb in an interview with Digiday. “Knowing this is a campaign and not a one-and-done ad makes this all the more sweeter.”

A Theme of Pursuing Dreams Despite Adversities

Along with LeBron James, Serena Williams and Odell Beckham Jr., the two-minute spot highlights other athletes including Megan Blunk, a Rio gold medal-winning wheelchair athlete; Isaiah Bird, a 10-year-old wrestler born without legs; Charlie Jabaley, an Ironman athlete that dropped 120 pounds and overcame a brain tumor; and Alicia Woollcott, a Michigander linebacker that was named homecoming queen during her senior season.

“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what you think you can do, OK, stay that way because what nonbelievers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult. It’s a compliment,” Kaepernick says at the beginning of the spot.

The theme of the ad espouses sacrifice and pushes for athletes to pursue bigger dreams despite facing various challenges from gender, health conditions and disabilities.

Media and Sales Results of Nike’s “Just Do It” Campaign

Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign faced mixed reception ranging from neutral to positive, while other viewers called for a boycott of the brand, cut the Nike emblem from their clothing and took to social media to express their outrage. According to data analytics firm Brandwatch, the trending hashtag #BoycottNike gained more than 188.4 million impressions on Twitter.

Nike speculated that the campaign would lead to a drop in sales, but a report from Edison Trends said that the company’s online sales grew 31 percent from Sunday through Tuesday, marking a 14 percent increase from the previous year during that period.

Kellan Terry, data manager at data analytics firm Brandwatch, reported more than a 1,300 percent jump in online mentions of Nike on Twitter between Sept. 2 and the day of the announcement.

Despite the surge in sales and online mentions, Nike reported a 3 percent decline in shares on Tuesday, Sept. 4, the biggest one-day drop since April 2018. Adidas, Nike’s top competitor, also reported a drop in shares.

Bloomberg Apex Marketing Group $34 Million In Media Generated Nike Just Do It Campaign

Although Kaepernick is perceived to be the face of the campaign, a Nike spokesperson said he is only one of several other athletes that are part of the “Just Do It” campaign with a spot featuring Serena Williams launching last week.

“This is the kind of advertising that has helped build Nike to what it is today – and exactly what we should be seeing from the Just Do It campaign,” said Katy Wellhousen, account director at influencer agency RQ in an interview with Digiday. “The campaign has lasted three decades because of Nike’s ability to weave it into powerful and personal stories.”

Was Featuring Kaepernick A Risky Move?

The decision to have Kaepernick serve as the narrator for the spot is viewed as a risky move based on his controversy in the NFL and his accusations against its owners of colluding to keep him out of the league. Kaepernick has been deemed by advertisers as “too polarizing” and he hasn’t been featured in an ad spot since 2015.

Nike has served as the official uniform and sideline apparel sponsor for the NFL since 2012 with a partnership extending into 2028 and although the ad spot might create tension between the two companies, their relationship seems unaffected at this time.

The Problem With Purpose-Driven Marketing

It’s impossible to appeal to every audience without coming across as inauthentic or confused in brand direction, which is a common problem in today’s world of purpose-driven marketing. Even though the ad spot received backlash, Nike has an ethnically-diverse customer base where two-thirds are younger than 35.

“Nike cares most about the category influencers and tastemakers — nearly all of whom will embrace their decision,” said Howe Burch, the former head of U.S. marketing for Reebok in an interview with Time. “They know they will lose some customers short-term but not the kind of customers that really drive their business.”

Final Thoughts on Nike’s “Just Do It” Campaign

Personally, I think that Nike hit a home run with their campaign. It’s a fantastic case study on using purpose-driven marketing to appeal and connect to your core audience through an emotional piece of marketing.

Lately I’ve been reading Gary Vaynerchuk’s “Jab Jab Right Hook” and one of the main tenets of his book is creating content that’s appealing or powerful without it being a direct sell for the brand. You make jabs to garner engagement and further connect with your audience so that when you make that right hook, or the ask/sell to your audience, they’ll be more inclined to make that purchase or conversion.

The latest iteration of the “Just Do It” campaign is a short and sweet two-minute ad spot that features Nike’s slogan at the very end of the ad without attempting to sell anything. It tells a powerful story with a myriad of athletes overcoming different disabilities and adversities to “Just Do It” and accomplish their dreams.

In today’s political climate, the campaign resonates with a huge core of Nike’s audience as they’re both young and ethnically diverse. The metrics of the campaign speak volumes as the number of Nike mentions skyrocketed and sales drastically increased during the time frame that the ad spot ran. It’s easily shareable content that garnered $43 million in paid and earned media despite the vocal minority calling for a boycott. Hell, the meme currency is incredibly high with the plethora of meme photos crowding my Facebook and Twitter feeds.

Like Howe Burch mentioned, it’s impossible to appeal to everyone and Nike took a calculated move that displayed steadfastness in who their brand is trying to appeal to. They may lose a few customers, but Nike will retain the majority that is representative of their overall sales.

It’s even better that this ad spot isn’t just a one off and that it is part of an ongoing series so that Nike can continue making jabs while being poised to clinch an explosive right hook.

What do you think of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign, its effectiveness and long-term implications? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!