Advertising is a reflection of our times. It always has been.
Advertising of brands, like music and movies, can be a social message in itself. It influences how we look, what we eat and sometimes how we see ourselves.
So when brands join force with another global and cultural phenomenon, such as sports, it can be even more powerful.
Brands want to be more “human”, and are a lot more open-minded to have a point of view. They understand in order to do this genuinely they need to allow people to have a voice.
Athletes understand their roles in the society and are more authoritative than ever to choose what brand they like to use as a platform to allow them to have a voice, and represent their values.
But in a commercial world, brands have a lot to be accounted for.
Brands have every pressure from the shareholders to invest only in messages that guaranteed sales growth.
Brands have every right to avoid associating with sensitive political issues.
Brands have all the reasons to communicate a message that appeals to “everyone”.
Thank goodness Nike is not such a brand.
The recent Nike campaignmakes no direct reference to any political viewpoints, but by featuring Colin Kaepernick (among Lebron James, Serena Williams and a slew of other athletes), the association to his protest against racial injustice, and decided to kneel rather than stand for the national anthem before a 2016 National Football League preseason game is clear.
What’s so compelling about the Nike message is not because it’s charged with one of the most sensitive political messages at the moment, and confronting face to face with one of the most controversial leaders in American history, it’s the pure fact that this is so true to what we know about the brand – someone who has the courage to speak his/her mind, and giving people of any background the space to expression theirs.
Not every brand can do this though. Any brand who hasn’t got that long established history of credential and integrity, will come out feeling sheer opportunistic.
The clever approach of Nike is that it does not have to express a single point of view but just create a stage for the broad range of people to express the breadth of their standpoints. In the process, bring people of many different backgrounds together.
It makes the brand feels more human, an advocate of freedom of speech rather than siding with one point of view.
True, after the news went viral, it pulled waves of both support and backlash, even boycott. The brand’s shares dipped in reaction to the news. But on the other hand, the campaign also received millions of dollars of media exposure. Perhaps all these have fulfilled the brand’s calculated cost benefit analysis, in communicating the message of an inclusive world for all.
Even if some people don’t agree with what you are saying, they will appreciate that you have the courage to say it and speak up.
Perhaps it’s really time for brands to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.