March 25, 2023
Nike’s new ad featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick. (Nike 2018)

By Kaitlyn Mullin, Spoke News

On Sept. 3, the American multinational corporation Nike released an advertisement campaign that became a subject of controversy across the internet. The ad features a former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, who created his own controversy in 2016 when he began taking a knee during the American national anthem.

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” reads the controversial advertisement — part of Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.

Kaepernick was the first NFL player to refuse to stand during the anthem and instead chose to kneel to protest racial injustice in the United States. Kaepernick’s protest triggered a political divide among Americans which eventually led to his removal from the NFL team.

The ad that was posted on Kaepernick’s Twitter account just days before the 2018 NFL season with the hashtag #justdoit. That led some critics of the campaign to burn their Nike merchandise in an attempt to start a boycott against the now controversial company. The boycott, which often uses the hashtags #justburnit or #boycottNike, has many Americans upset as Kaepernick’s protest was seen as disrespectful and unpatriotic, and their interpretation of the ad is that Nike has no respect for the American flag and those who fought for their freedom.

Students at Conestoga College, many of whom sport their Nike clothes in the halls every day, were similarly divided over the now worldwide controversy.

“He was not a great choice, no. He’s a protester. Why would Nike want to adopt a negative image? ” said Becky Carr, a Conestoga accounting student. “The boycott, involving ruining perfectly good shoes and clothing, is awful. I would say those same people can boycott the name but at least give the shoes and clothing to those who are without.”

“Nike supports athletes that make a difference. There’s no need to blow things out of proportion,” said Matthew Wren, a Conestoga hearing instrument specialist student.

However, a Conestoga professor believes Nike knew exactly what it was doing.

“They would have anticipated the positive feedback and the negative feedback,” said Stephen Howell, coordinator of Conestoga’s media foundations program. “They are not making a decision prejudicially or politically. What they are doing is they are making the decision pragmatically, based on whether or not it’s good for their brand.”

In Howell’s opinion, much depends on a person’s perspective on a situation.

“If you see kneeling during the national anthem as a mark of disrespect, then it doesn’t matter what I say to you, you’re going to be negative about it,” Howell said. “But if you see it as a mark of homage, then that is going to impact the way you look at the situation.”

Since the initial release of the ad on Kaepernick’s Twitter account, Nike has released a two-minute commercial featuring Kaepernick speaking about powerful and inspirational athletes from around the world. The ad, titled “Dream Crazy,” features, among others, tennis star Serena Williams, who grew up in a troubled neighbourhood; Canadian teen soccer star Alphonso Davies, a refugee who now plays for a national team; and NBA star Lebron James, who has recently opened up his own school.

“If people say your dreams are crazy; if they laugh at what you think you can do, good, stay that way,” Kaepernick says during the controversial commercial. “Because what non-believers fail to understand is that calling a dream crazy is not an insult, it’s a compliment.”

Although the controversy has many Americans boycotting the company, Nike’s online sales have increased by 31 per cent since the controversy according to MarketWatch.

Nike’s bold move to use Kaepernick as the face for their brand is not the first time Nike has used topics of debate as a forefront for their marketing. In 1995, Nike’s campaign was centred around AIDS and gender equality. In 2017, Nike focused their marketing on racial equality, people with disabilities and even sparked conversation when five women in hijabs were pictured in one of their advertisements.

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