Nike Just Did It

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Nike announces Colin Kaepernick as one of the faces of its 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign, and the marketing talking heads explode with praise. Scott Galloway, on Gartner L2, called it "genius" and the "gangster marketing move of 2018." Scott is a professor at NYU Stern, and his view was echoed by marketing experts from Miami to Toronto (by way of New Zealand).  In 3 days, the campaign generated $163.5 million of TV, radio, social, and other media coverage for Nike.


We agree. It was risky, it was bold, and it was epic. Nike waded right into a highly politicized discussion, and came down squarely on the side of diversity, inclusion, and free speech. It was not a risk-free move. Nike lost over $3 billion in market capitalization following the announcement, and "intent to purchase" dropped by 10 points across all demographics, according to a survey of 8,000 by Morning Consult.

Some would call it a bet-the-company position. We think this decision was particularly bold for another reason, one not mentioned in the marketers' discussion of this move.

In April of 2018, Nike announced its first-ever chief diversity and inclusion officer, Kellie Leonard, who worked with me at Dell years ago. This followed the departure of six top male executives and an internal investigation into inappropriate behavior. Nike's own internal culture was not consistent with the values of diversity it has long championed in its ads with Serena Williams, LeBron James, and others.

We became aware of some behavioral issues that are inconsistent with Nike’s values of inclusivity, respect and empowerment.
— Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, March 22, 2018

Fast forward just four months. By more than doubling down on its stated commitment to diversity and inclusion in featuring Kaepernick, one of the most polarizing figures in sport, as the newest face of Nike, the company has shifted the narrative. Just four months after the news of Nike's internal investigation broke, you'd be hard pressed to find a mention of it in marketing experts' current discussions of the Kaepernick ads. It was a flippin' brilliant marketing move, and not just because of the $163 million in free coverage.

Our friend at Church & State, Ron Tite, champions the idea of "think, do, say" for brands. We agree. Authenticity is crucial, but it’s rarely fully realized by large brands. The fact that Nike has long been a leader in thinking and talking about diversity, and is now in the process of ensuring that its internal culture aligns with its external messages, is huge.

Nike picked the right leader for this effort. Kellie Leonard was well-respected at Dell. She's smart, quietly effective, and very calm in a crisis. But she was most known for doing what she said she was going to do. Just do it, Kellie.

Nike for the win.