Analysis: Nike says 'Don't do it' and adidas agrees with a retweet

Nike has once again very bravely made its stance and voice heard, launching a video on Friday night asking viewers not to "pretend there isn't a problem in America". The text-only video came in light of the death of George Floyd, who died of injuries after suffering from police brutality and as protests continue to break out across the US.  

The minute-long video told audiences not to turn their backs on racism, and not to sit back and be silent. It ends with the caption "Let's all be part of the change". Nike's video on YouTube has garnered 414,721 views at the point of writing, with netizens commending the brand for speaking out. 

In the video, the brand which has long stood against hatred and inequality, urged audiences to "for once, don't do it", flipping its popular tagline "just do it". Shortly after Nike posted its video on its YouTube and Twitter platforms, rival sports brand adidas retweeted Nike's post on its own Twitter account with the caption "Together is how we move forward. Together is how we make change." The tweet has garnered 76,800 retweets, and 222,800 likes at the time of writing.

adidas nike twitter

This is not the first time Nike has gotten involved in a conversation around race. In 2018, Nike released the advert, titled Dream Crazy where it featured NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick who had knelt for the pre-game national anthem in protest at racial injustice in the US. The ad led to many consumers taking to social media to burn their Nike products.

Nick Foley, president of Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan of brand consulting firm Landor, said that when engaging in political comments or conversations, there is always the risk upsetting some of brand's target audience. The risk is further increased in the current climate of divisive politics in the US.

However, Nike is no stranger to voicing controversial thoughts, and has a track record of driving awareness through unorthodox marketing activities. Citing its controversial move in 2018 with Kaepernick, Foley explained that while there were consumers who were initially unhappy with the sports brand's move, eventually "the dust settled", the haters moved on while “the brand furthered its distance from its competitors due to a formidable brand persona".

According to Foley, risk and return go hand in hand for Nike which has etched itself into the minds of millions of loyal consumers through its taglines ranging from “Go hard or go home” to “You don’t win silver; You lose gold” and now, “For once, Don’t Do It”.

Graham Hitchmough, chief operating officer, Bonsey Design Singapore echoed similar sentiments that alienating certain segments is inevitable for mass brands that choose to take a positive public stance on divisive socio-political issues or events.  Nonetheless Nike has earned the right to have a voice and express an opinion on this and other cultural flash points given its consistent communication and advocacy for issues of representation and diversity. “This is hardwired into the brand and personified by many of its most famous endorsers,” he added. 

“If a brand has nothing of real value to say, no established ideological stance from which to shape their message and no history or plan of backing up words with positive and tangible action, then it is best for them to say nothing at all,”Hitchmough added.

Jay Milliken, senior partner, Asia regional lead of agency Prophet, said there is a huge risk for a brand to simply enter into the national dialogue on race at this point, given the intense emotions around the topic of racism.

However, moving forward, this could result in a change in tide where more brands will start taking a stand on such core social issues, especially if they are anchored on universal beliefs like equality and diversity. As for now, a brand cannot simply raise its voice amidst of a national crises, unless its purpose is strongly rooted in that social issue and it has a proven track record on the topic.

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