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Don't be like Nike

You’ve probably heard about that Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick which is causing people to angrily destroy their own property. Even if like me you live in deepest, darkest Berkshire, and you’ve mostly seen silly parody versions. Either way, you’ve probably had that thought: “should I try to copy this?”

The short answer is, “no”.

The long answer is also, “no”, but with a discussion of marketing trends, theory, and practice, linked to your business goals.

If you’re still reading, I’m assuming you’re interested in that, and shall get right into it.

Your goals

To help you decide what you should do, we first need to understand what you want to achieve. I know that sounds obvious, but it’s a step that is frequently missing from business conversations. More on that later.

Most companies I work with have a very simple goal: to make more profit. Therefore everything you do should be aimed at increasing profits. That’s the touchstone we should use to compare any idea to.

Marketing theory

The goal of marketing is to present and position your products such that customers will choose them over the competition in your marketplace. This means you need to have the right price, sell them in the right place, target the right people and so on. All these facets of how your product is presented add up to what is known as a brand.

That’s where we run into problems, because today the concept of brand has taken on a life of its own. In the eyes of many marketing thought leaders today, the goal of your company is to develop its brand. The concept is that is you can create a brand that really resonates with customers, they will buy your products because they love your brand so much. Therefore if you read some marketing specialist websites, or Linkedin articles, or maybe even business columns in major newspapers, they will be full of advice such as “why you should be like Nike”, “how you can be like Nike”, and so on. To be fair, so is this one.

Today, the idea of brand has been taken further to make a “brand purpose”, which is to say that a company isn’t in business to sell things people need, but to change the world. People aren’t buying a product but supporting a dream. It’s a nice idea but I feel it’s rooted in ego: the dream people are buying into is the CEO’s dream, and it all feels like a way for rich businesspeople to convince themselves that what they’re doing isn’t grubby capitalism.

The problem with this concept is that it doesn’t appear to work. Even before the Kaepernick ad, there was very little evidence (as routinely demonstrated by the excellent Ad Contrarian blog) that customers bought more from brands they love or even that they particularly care about brands at all. Instead, evidence suggests that people buy things that they consider offer good value for money and which have features they want. It’s a bit different once you get to fashion and luxury goods, but for almost all B2B and the majority of B2C, the most effective marketing remains traditional.

There’s a bigger problem here though. If we look at the articles mentioned above telling us that we should advertise in such controversial ways, there is one thing they aren’t mentioning. In order to strongly resonate with one demographic, marketing needs to stand out to the point of alienating a large part of the consumer base. To take the Nike example, the company had a massive drop in average consumer “favourability”, from +69 to +35 points. Interestingly the report notes that there was no boost among the targeted demographics.

What does that mean?

One way we could look at this is that the target audience of this marketing already thought that Nike supported their views, and so this campaign made no impact on them. But that those who hate it had previously thought that Nike was for people like them, and had that view shattered.

So what?

If you’re wondering whether you should copy Nike and make a massive statement of which of your customers you support, think of the impact it will have.

Remember our business goal from above: if we want to make more profit, will this campaign further that goal?

As things stand today, your current and prospective customers probably weigh up your products based on how your product is presented compared to your competition. If you make a big, controversial statement, those who are alienated will simply remove you from contention which those who agree will continue as usual.

So am I saying that you should just advertise features and benefits, letting your product simply be a boring capitalist product that just makes you more money?

Not necessarily.

I understand the drive among business leaders to feel that they are making a better world. In recent years we have had plenty of corporate scandals and sometimes it feels as if being a successful businessperson automatically means one has acted unethically in order to get there. However, I feel that today’s ego-driven world is not the best place to look for a solution. Instead, maybe consider the successful industrialists of past centuries who believed in leaving a better world for their employees and communities.

Rather than statements to show that you care about abstract concepts, consider investing in the lives of your employees today. In the modern world, work-related stress is a major issue and one which costs the UK over £6 billion per year. This is a key part of the UK productivity crisis. By restricting expected working hours, paying well, and giving employees freedom and flexibility in doing their work you can create a far greater impact on people’s lives. The best part is that happier employees will be more productive, more innovative, and far less likely to jump ship: they will work with you to make more profit.

Wasn’t that our business goal?


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