We would bet that someone in the top brass at Nike is going to lose their job by the end of the year, if not sooner. It’s actually tough to recall a major American company making so egregious a public relations error as the athletic sportwear giant made when they decided that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of their new advertising campaign. Whether you agree with Kaepernick’s social justice stance or loathe the trends he started in the NFL, you have to admit – from a purely objective marketing perspective – that Nike made a tremendous mistake. And that mistake is already becoming evident in stock prices, polling results, and social media backlash.
“Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts,” President Trump tweeted this week. “I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way? As far as the NFL is concerned, I just find it hard to watch, and always will, until they stand for the FLAG!”
It’s hard to imagine that no one in the Nike boardroom raised any objections to the idea of putting the Kaepernick ad campaign out there. We’re sure that Nike, like many corporations, values ethnic and gender diversity at the expense of ideological diversity, but you would have to live in a bubble almost impossibly thick to not see this coming. The anthem protests have not just cost Colin Kaepernick his career; they have divided America right along political lines. They have tanked the NFL’s television ratings and emptied the stands at major games across the nation. Already suffering from the effects of the concussion controversy, the NFL is seeing their brand tarnished in a way that would have been unthinkable only a few short years ago. Nike really thought it would be a good idea to grab some of that nasty mess and smear it all over their own brand?
A new poll from Morning Consult shows that the damage has already been done. Nike went from a 69% favorable rating before announcing the Kaepernick ad to a 35% favorability rating afterwards. That a drop of 34 points – a disaster by any measure. You could almost downplay those numbers if Nike saw a boost among their favored demographics – young people, black consumers, etc. – but that’s not the case. The company’s favorability ratings declined in those groups as well. Additionally, 10% fewer Americans told the polling company that they would consider buying Nike merchandise in the future.
If those numbers translate to the actual marketplace, Nike is looking at a period of self-destruction nearly unprecedented in modern economic history.