Blog / ‘Nike Knew Their Target Market’- a Note about the Kaepernick Ad

‘Nike Knew Their Target Market’- a Note about the Kaepernick Ad

“#JustBurnIt,” said Twitter.

“I stand with Nike, all day, every day,” said LeBron.

“What was Nike thinking?” said Trump.

By now, we’ve heard it all.

But politics aside, the truth remains that Nike was thinking when it made Colin Kaepernick the face of its “Just Do It” campaign.

The company had long ago calculated that Kaepernick’s popularity would outlast boycotts and initial stock pressure.

This is reflected in a recent report showing that Nike’s online sales increased 31 percent during Labor Day weekend, compared to a 17 percent gain in 2017. Though sales hit a low point the Sunday before Kaepernick’s debut, sales jumped that Monday and Tuesday.

The company’s shares also hit a record high of $83.83 this afternoon, up nearly 2 percent since before the campaign launched, according to CBS.

“This premeditated move was another subtle but significant sign of Nike’s strength and confidence in its position in the marketplace,” says one Wall Street analyst, who called the ad “a stroke of genius.”

“It spoke to Nike’s core consumers in a very Nike-esque provocative way that shows it understands them and the issues that matter to them,” he adds.


colin kaepernick ad by nike
Source: Business Insider


Appealing to the Nike ‘Sneakerhead’

The company’s core customer is the 14- to 22-year-old male ‘sneakerhead,’ says Wedbush Securities Analyst Christopher Svezia, echoing another analyst’s note that two-thirds of Nike’s sneaker customers are younger than 35.

And last year, Nike announced a realignment around 12 key cities that would likely represent more than 80 percent of its growth through 2020: New York, Los Angeles, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Barcelona, Seoul and Milan.

But Nike’s disruptive approach to advertising dates back 30 years. Its edgy and progressive branding served to support Muhammad Ali even after his prime and Tiger Woods after his DUI arrest.

More recently, Nike spearheaded an “Equality” campaign featuring Nike-sponsored athletes like Serena Williams, Gabby Douglas, and Kevin Durant.


The company’s latest decision to bring Kaepernick to the forefront was no less deliberate.

Its top sponsors have openly backed Kaepernick or contributed to his foundation for fighting “oppression of all kinds globally, through education and social activism.”

Among fans, 62 percent of people ages 18 to 34 believed that athletes were “doing the right thing” when they protested by kneeling during the National Anthem, according to a CNN-SSRS poll from last September.

Zoomph also ran an analysis of Nike’s core audience on Twitter. We analyzed millennial males who regularly engage with Nike and have an interest in the NFL. Among a sample audience of 5,100 users, fans were four times more likely to be liberal than conservative, and 11 percent valued political discourse.

When comparing Nike’s core audience with Twitter users who regularly engage with Kaepernick, we additionally found that both audiences have a unique affinity to The Economist.


Why is this worth noting? Let’s take a look at a recent award-winning campaign by The Economist.

Following in the Footsteps of The Economist

Not too long ago, The Economist set out to attract a younger reader base.

But it faced some unique challenges: For one, the magazine required reading. In a world that was only moving faster by the minute, The Economist was an especially long, dense read that went against the grain.

Its substance wasn’t for the faint hearted, either. Authoritative, liberal, and, at many times, provocative—The Economist sought readers who were “daring and intellectually curious.”

The Economist decided to create a campaign that would weed out the squeamish while catching the eye of its ideal reader.

Like Nike, The Economist studied millennials in several target locations. (In fact, they used Zoomph to track the social media conversations of “globally curious” millennials.)

Then, with the help of experiential agency Sense, they launched “edgy” activations that addressed topical issues by location.

For example, in London, The Economist served ice cream topped with locusts, grasshoppers, and meal worms to passersby. This referenced the food of the next century and the publication challenged, “Not grossed out? Then you might be the kind of person who can handle The Economist.”

The strategy—deemed “Discomfort Future”—touched Europe, Brazil, the U.S., Australia, South Africa, China, and Singapore. It generated over 30,000 subscriptions worldwide and a customer lifetime value of £1.7 million.



The Key Takeaway

While different in their executions, the rationale behind The Economist’s and Nike’s campaigns were similar: If your customers welcome bold, potentially controversial ideas, then give it to them.

But make sure you’ve done due diligence. Don’t simply wreak havoc for attention. Know who you might lose and who you might gain into your audience as you entertain ideas and build up brand equity.

If you’re looking to expand into new markets, learn how people perceive you, then analyze ways to introduce your brand into their everyday lives or vernacular like The Economist did.

If your goal is to reinforce existing relationships, take a cue from Nike. By knowing the heart of the fans you represent and the stars you endorse, you can make a powerful statement while minimizing risk–and ultimately become a brand of the people.

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