Odds are you heard about Nike in some capacity last week. They announced their 30thanniversary Just Do It campaign, starring former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Odds are you’ve heard about him too – in 2016 he initiated the controversial kneeling during the national anthem movement in protest of racial injustice.

Initial reactors expected the campaign to fail, and many consumers started burning and destroying their Nike products.

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Nike’s stock dropped nearly 4% after the initial announcement, but that didn’t stop them. They aired their first TV spot of the campaign late last week, featuring several high-profile black athletes. The same day, Nike’s stock reached a record high. Moreover, Apex Marketing group calculated that the Kaepernick campaign generated over $43 million in free media exposure.

So how is it that this massive risk worked out? The answer comes in the form of a savvy understanding of customer segments. A study by Marketingweek showed that younger consumers who are black or Asian were more likely to positively view the campaign and be repeat customers than older white customers were. Not much of a surprise there. But Toluna also polled 1000 consumers to ask if they were already Nike customers, and found that 79% of those under 34 were, compared to the 41% of over-55s.

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It’s unlikely that this targeting was coincidental. This move shows that Nike is aware of and eager to respond to the needs and wants of upcoming generations – not just Millennials who are now ages 23-36, but also Gen Z.

Forbes wrote an article offering 8 marketing tips to capture Gen Z that it seems Nike took to heart. Nike covered all eight, but the striking advice of Focus on Emotional Intelligence, Get Influencers Behind Your Brand, and Show Them You Care About Their Social Issues was what allowed them to so successfully emotionally connect with customers. Nike listened, and in a huge act of trust, in spite of damaging their relationship with the NFL, offered its customers something that proved they were more than just a brand.

 

From a marketing management perspective, here are some questions to think about:

  • If you were a marketing manager for the NFL, what action would you take in response to Nike’s campaign?
  • Not every brand that takes on a social cause is successful. Pepsi failed with its police brutality campaign. As a marketing manager, what things must you take into consideration when deciding what cause to take on as a brand?
  • If you were a marketing manager for Reebok or Under Armour, what would be your next move?