Believe in Something. Even if it Means Making a Lot of Money.

Nike's "Believe in Something" ad with Colin Kaepernick has helped lead to a 31% YoY increase in sales from last Labor Day. Good work, marketing team!

Obviously there has been backlash. Some people have burned their Nike gear in frustration at an ad supporting someone whose form of protest is not standing at the national anthem. The most famous version (I think) is some guy named Phil who burned his shoes while wearing them. (Interesting side-note: he tweeted that he was in the hospital with burned feet but the photo wasn't real and there is no record of him actually injuring himself. What an odd dude.)

But the backlash has been more than made up for by people buying more Nikes. This isn't surprising at all. Nike's well-resourced marketing team probably did some careful studying before flirting with controversy. Their effort paid off. Controversy means, by definition, that some people will love something and some people will hate it. If you can get more people to love something than hate it, then you're net positive. Nike seems to have had a good inkling of that going into the ad. All the shoe-burning gets Nike's name out in the media at a huge multiplier of what it spent on the ad. And it gets Nike's name out as taking a side in a culture war. Nike knows its target market and who is on the fence about buying Nikes, and very deliberately built an ad to cater to them. 

Again, good work to the marketing team there.

Turns out burning your Nikes may have helped their bottom line more than hurt it. I'm willing to speculate that some people went out and bought Nikes just to spite the folks that were burning the Nikes.



I don't want to weigh in on Kaepernick's form of protest, whether it's appropriate/inappropriate, optimal or suboptimal for trying to get his message about police brutality across. I don't want to weigh in on the issue of police brutality in general. I just want to make this point: it pays to polarize. Marketers have known for a long time that "if you try to cater to everyone, you cater to nobody." You need to get people fired up enough to get up out of bed and go part with their hard-earned money. People kindof-liking you doesn't inspire that action--getting people to love you does. And because everyone has their own opinions, doing something that gets people to love you will get some people to hate you.

Businesses know this. Political media knows it just as well as Nike does. And politicians know this. CNN and Fox and HuffPost need to get you to read their thing rather than look at pictures of cats. Politicians need you to go to the polls... especially during primaries, where nobody shows up. To get your money, your time, your vote, everyone has to appeal to the people who are almost ready to move. They don't need to appeal to those already bought in, nor those who will never be. So next time you see a successful company or politician doing something controversial, just consider: who is being targeted? If you're getting angry, it's probably not you. If you're getting excited, you're the one being manipulated by the advertising.

1 Comment

Erik Fogg

We do politics, but we don't do the thinking for you.