Advance Performance | How Did Nike Succeed In Its Recent Risk-Taking Ad Campaign When Pepsi Failed?
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How Did Nike Succeed In Its Recent Risk-Taking Ad Campaign When Pepsi Failed?

How Did Nike Succeed In Its Recent Risk-Taking Ad Campaign When Pepsi Failed?

This month, Nike launched its 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign featuring the former NFL star and Black Lives Matter activist Colin Kaepernick who was the first NFL star to ‘take a knee’ during the singing of the national anthem in protest of police brutality and in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Nike Ad owned by Nike
The powerful slogan chosen by Nike’s image of Kaepernick “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” is both risk-taking and emphatic in its statement of intent in a global ad campaign. The original protest by Kaepernick and fellow sports stars brought condemnation from some people – including President Trump, but many other supporters who stand by the NFL team members in their visual message of protest.

This campaign was a huge risk to take especially for the 30th anniversary, and despite a few vocal people who have burned their Nike clothing online, the impact looks very promising. Already, Nike has sold out 61% more merchandise since the ad was released according to Thomson Reuters Proprietary Research.

In comparison, Pepsi’s attempt to do an ad campaign highlighting social activism had to be withdrawn within 24 hours in April this year due to the massive public backlash.  How did Nike succeed in their campaign whereas Pepsi failed on such a huge scale?


(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Nike featured a man who was directly involved in the protest – the person who started the “Take a knee” stance, and led other sports stars to follow him. Kaepernick’s actions stand for the slogan chosen by Nike “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” He believed in a cause, and took action in the most public way he could to get his message to as many people he could – and he has sacrificed his whole career for this belief. Kaepernick is no longer signed to an NFL team. He has not been allowed to play in an NFL game for 20 months – and yet he is now the most famous unemployed sportsman in the world.

Pepsi featured Kendall Jenner, a model, reality star and member of the Kardashian family in its ad campaign which brought such an overwhelming negative response it was pulled within 24 hours. The image of Jenner approaching the police clearly referenced the iconic photograph of Ieshia Evans, a black woman who physically took a stand against the riot police during a Black Lives Matter protest in Baton Rouge following the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling by police in 2016.

Its lack of authenticity in its message was not only disliked by consumers but caused a huge negative backlash because of the inclusion of Jenner (in a blonde wig) and their misappropriation of culture in an attempt to emulate such an important genuine protest by a black woman.

“I wasn’t afraid. I took a stand in Baton Rouge because enough is enough.” – Ieshia Evans

Pepsi’s campaign misfired because it was not authentic. The fictional campaign in the video had no focus and the importance of people’s human right to protest was degraded by the solution of a sugary beverage.

Your authenticity is a reflection of behaving according to your core beliefs and values. They drive your strategies to be authentic.

Nike presented an authentic campaign in its reference of the image of the man who has led the “take a knee” protest, and their message symbolised not only what Kaepernick has sacrificed but any person who has stood for their beliefs and made sacrifices. It acknowledges its support for Black Lives Matter, but consumers can take Nike’s message of belief and sacrifice to relate to their own dreams and beliefs.

The whole imagery fits in the values of Nike’s Just Do It campaign – to go for your dreams, to take action, to move, to keep going, to reach that goal, and to keep your belief.

As we say in our Advance courses – start with your “why”, your core beliefs so that your beliefs become your positive focused thoughts leading to your changed behaviour. Know your values and what YOU stand for. Just like Colin Kaepernick. Just like Nike.

You may have to make sacrifices for your beliefs but Just Do It.