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Why Nike got the timing right by endorsing Colin Kaepernick

Updated: Dec 24, 2018



When Nike announced their endorsement of Colin Kaepernick in September of this year, it took the world by storm. The ad campaign that accompanied the decision revived the Nike brand for younger consumers, leading to an overall increase in sales during that month. And the stock went up 6% and set a series of record highs, adding as much as $6 billion to its market cap. Stock aside, the campaign erupted online driving over 170,000 new followers to Instagram alone and generating $163.5 million in buzz and brand exposure.

It was a cultural moment.

To put our Behavioral Analytics Predictive Insight Tool to the test, we leveraged MotivBase.com to map the rise of social justice in sport and better understand how Colin Kaepernick served as the perfect symbol for the Nike brand.


We began by exploring the cultural universe of “Pro Sport & Social Justice” versus “Colin Kaepernick and Social Justice” between 2016 and 2017.

At this time, the cultural universe was small, and the topic was highly ideological. But our system recognized that it was growing and predicted that we would see an increase of 200% in the next six months with a medium level of confidence.


Interestingly, at this time the new and emerging topics that were increasingly being associated with Kaepernick and social justice were dominated by “ism’s” further reinforcing how ideological this culture was.


Now fast forward, and compare the results to that exact topic between 2017 and 2018 — One month before the campaign was revealed to the world.

The culture of Kaepernick and social Justice has vastly matured and become relevant to the early majority. We also can see that our core market has increased from 17.1 Million to 30.2 Million Americans.


But more importantly, the associations that consumers are making with this culture have change. The “ism’s” are gone.


Instead, the emerging connections that are more frequently being used to shape this culture are more community driven.


Topics like “Young Men” and “Minority Groups” and “Tragedy” have become emotionally driven topics that are marking the idea of Colin Kaepernick and Social Justice more relevant to more people.


By simply tracking the shifts and changes in this cultural universe we could see consumer culture catching up with Colin Kaepernick. Our next question was why was this such a perfect fit for the Nike Brand?


Comparing “Pro Sports & Social Justice”, “Nike Shoes” and “Colin Kaepernick and Social Justice”

As we looked to better understand why this particular campaign erupted online, and across America, we looked to compare these culture universes to identify overlap.


First, we could see that by bringing the Nike brand into the social justice conversation, Nike would be engaging with a much younger audience than the Americans they were currently connecting with.



But, more importantly, the clear opportunity was revealed when we looked at the motivations that are shared between consumers when they engage around these all three of these topics.


The culture of “Nike Shoes” (Rember: This timeframe is one month before the Colin Kaepernick campaign was launched) is linked to a consumer’s need to “Prove the can drive social/political change” and a need to drive and dismantle existing social hierarchies. This is inherently shared with the culture of Colin Kaepernick and social justice.


But when you focus on Pro Sport and social justice and look at the motivations that are unique to this culture, motivations like “Holding onto tradition” and “Promoting American exceptionalism” rise to the top. This suggests that there are more conservative and traditional needs in this cultural universe.


Or in other words, Nike shares less in common with Pro Sport and social justice than it does with Colin Kaepernick and social justice.


Lastly, we looked at the attitudes shared by the culture of Nike Shoes and Kaepernick.

As you can see, the marriage between these two cultures was perfectly fit. Nike didn’t take a chance, as much as they aligned with the voice that was most aligned to their brand, their consumers, and clearly differentiated them from people who probably weren’t going to buy their products anyway. The market was not ready for this in 2017. But in 2018 the tide had turned and Nike made their “calculated risk”.

To their credit, their timing was impeccable.

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