There has been a wide range of responses to Nike's new campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.
Some people are angry over the company featuring the controversial football player, and others are delighted in the companies support of Kaepernick and his movement.
Controversial activism has become a trend in current day society, to the point that there is societal pressure to participate in an activist movement. But is it a good idea, from a marketing standpoint, to contribute to the conversation? In a society full of political tension, division, sensitivity and overall unrest, is it really such a smart idea for companies to be jumping on the "controversial activism" bandwagon?
Through my own study of advertising and marketing, I would personally say that it is not a good idea for a brand or a company to wave its political affiliation in the open.
Many argue it's our rights as Americans to voice our opinion, which it definitely is, but from a purely business standpoint, it's a poor business plan in hindsight.
America is made up of a plethora of opinions and ideas. As a company, presenting one idea as the "good" idea and another as the "bad" is alienating half of your consumer base. Many companies have suffered from vocalizing their political opinions, such as Yeti and Target.
Kaepernick, as a "brand," became a business risk in the NFL, and therefore, he was unable to be signed once he chose to become a free agent and opted out of another year on the 49ers. Although we have freedom of speech laws in place to protect us from governmental scrutiny, those same freedom of speech laws do not carry over into businesses. Although standing up for something you believe in is a good thing, mixing business and controversial activism is not. Unless a business is centered around making an impact on a community, keeping business free of personal feeling and biased is the best decision.
There are other reasons I believe businesses are foolish for participating in controversy.
First of all, a lot of current day activist movements are baseless upon further research. A recent trend is banning plastic straws to help lessen the build-up of trash in the oceans. People are encouraging businesses and restaurants to offer paper alternatives or no straws at all.
The issue with this movement is that plastic straws make up less than 1% of the ocean's trash, especially plastic straws from the US.
The US is responsible for less than 5% of the trash in the oceans. If America stopped using plastic straws, there would still be the same amount of plastic in the ocean. On the contrary, those with disabilities need plastic straws to properly drink their beverages, and almost every substitute does not suffice. So when companies, such as Starbucks, pledge to stop using plastic straws to appeal to the anti-straw movement, they are doing nothing to actually save the oceans while inconveniencing a lot of their customers.
Some companies have even created solutions that harm the environment in more ways, such as the Starbucks' new cup covers. They hopped on a new activist trend without extensive and critical research in an attempt to improve their business' reputation, but instead inconvenienced a percentage of their customers and had no actual positive impact on the community.
Let's also not allow out naivety to get the better of ourselves; these companies use controversial movements as a mechanism to create more business.
Although Nike may possibly agree with Kaepernick's movement, their main objective is to generate more sales. Every "activist" decision a corporate company makes is in an attempt to improve their sales.
No big corporate business would make a decision that didn't live to serve their overall success. Their first thoughts are on money, not impact. When a company makes a public spectacle of their activism, they're doing so to improve their situation, not anyone else's.
In my opinion, this cheapens activism and the fight for a better society.
Is Nike donating any of their profit made from Kaepernick's campaign to improve inner-city schools and communities? Is Nike or Kaepernick meeting with government officials to create better laws that protect citizens from police brutality and support citizens in cases of police brutality? Are they working with law enforcement divisions to improve training programs, to ensure only the best, most well-trained and most professional policemen are being produced from these programs? Does Kaepernick condone Nike using sweatshops in foreign countries to produce their products, despite his entire movement being based around fighting for the oppressed?
There is a certain level to which brands are exploiting very serious movements in the name of turning a profit. Real support of issues would be to work with law officials, work with those who need help, donate to charities, create charities in support of lesser-known issues and more.
Finally, I disagree with companies participating in controversy simply because of the lack of creativity in the whole practice.
Perhaps years ago stating a controversial opinion was fresh and exciting, but so many companies have used this method of marketing that it's become white noise. In an attempt to be exciting and edgy, corporate companies announcing support for controversial movements, or even just using any activist movement to improve their reputation and sales, has become stale and boring.
The company that learns how to make a positive difference in the community and manages to connect all groups of people in support of their brand will be the company that has truly made a creative, edgy, interesting and shocking campaign.