Cannes Lions winner: How Nike gambled with politics for a big win

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Last year, Nike courted controversy by working with NFL star Colin Kaepernick who famously kneeled during the national anthem in protest at police brutality towards black people. The ad earned praise, but also criticism (even from the US president himself). But did the gamble pay off for the brand?

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Case study summary

• Nike took a risk to mark the 30th anniversary of its ‘Just Do It’ campaign
• Worked with controversial sports star Colin Kaepernick to make a statement to its customers.
• Video campaign attracted criticism, including from the US President
• Ad got 2.7m mentions of Nike within a week, marking a 1,400% rise and $43m cash value of media exposure in less than 24 hours
• Achieved a 31% growth in online sales within a week compared with a 17% gain for the same period in 2017

The challenge

In today's social media environment, brands are taking on a more personal role in peoples lives. As such, there's a heighten level of expectation to hear their views on divisive issues. Nike has always been a brand leader but also a risk taker. As the Black Lives Matter movement coursed through America, the brand has an opportunity, via a relevant high profile sports star, to make a statement to its customers.

Colin Kaepernick is the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, and a very public activist known for kneeling during the national anthem as a means of public protest of police brutality. Nike decided to work with him for its latest commercial.

The solution

In the video ad, Kaepernick narrates a commercial that contains a montage of people overcoming adversity and striving to become the best ever in their sport or to even become bigger than their sport. One of the critical moments of the commercial is the reveal of Colin Kaepernick as the narrator and the words, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” Nike has built its brand and its relation with consumers with the mantra “Just Do It,” and this legacy is weaved deeply into the execution.

The results

President Trump blasted Nike on Twitter and called attention to criticism by consumers. In addition, a number of consumers have taken to social media to share images of burning Nike products and calling for a boycott of the brand. However others also championed Nike’s partnership with Kaepernick and gone on to advocate and defend those against Nike or the campaign. Clearly, the use of Kaepernick as the narrator is polarising.


Key statistics


  • The ad was liked by some, but scorned by others. Today, of those who have liked or disliked present for the ad, approximately 57% like the ad and 43% dislike it.

  • 2.7 million mentions of Nike (and counting) within a week, marking a 1,400 percent increase from the previous day. Nike brand mentions increased by 135% compared to the previous week. (source: Talkwalker)

  • $43 million cash value of media exposure the campaign generated in less than 24 hours since it first revealed the spot on Twitter. Most of that coverage was neutral to positive, according to Apex Marketing Group.

  • 1,300 percent jump in mentions on Twitter between Sept. 2 and the day of the announcement (source: Brandwatch).

  • 21,135,487 views the “Dream Crazy” ad has on YouTube within a week. After releasing its campaign, Nike had the most single-day video views for its social media channels over the last 90 days.

  • 31 percent growth in online sales within a week compared with a 17 percent gain for the same period in 2017.

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