When Nike made former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick the face of their new ad campaign, alongside the slogan "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything," the company was counting on conservatives everywhere to turn the decision into a controversy. Conservatives didn't disappoint—before long, many on social media were burning their Nike products and claiming they'd never buy the brand again. These protests seem to have played right into Nike's hand, however: initial reports suggest shoe sales have seen a dramatic increase since the ad premiered.
It seems supporting Colin Kaepernick is both a sound moral choice and a viable economic one. Edison Trends, a digital commerce research company, reported that:
Nike sales grew 31% from Sunday through Tuesday over Labor Day this year, besting 2017's comparative 17% increase.
@TIME It’s the first time I happily bought #Nike for my kids.— Emma Lane-Spollen (@Emma Lane-Spollen)1536438805.0
Edison reported that Nike saw the usual dip in sales going into late August, but bounced back much more aggressively than last year after all the free press generated by the Kaepernick controversy.
The brand's visibility was also helped along by President Trump, who's repeatedly insisted football players who kneel to protest police brutality are "disrespecting the anthem, the US flag, and the military."
@Waynelittlewood @MarketWatch @EmmaKennedy https://t.co/3NtNzMNn36— gwenpoole (@gwenpoole)1536351594.0
Kaepernick began kneeling during the national anthem in 2016 to bring awareness to "racial injustice and police brutality." On Tuesday, September 4, the day after Kaepernick's ad was released, Trump commented to the Daily Caller:
I think it's a terrible message that [Nike] are sending and the purpose of them doing it, maybe there's a reason for them doing it. But I think as far as sending a message, I think it's a terrible message and a message that shouldn't be sent. There's no reason for it.
The President also commented on Twitter, suggesting without evidence that Nike's sales had been hurt by their controversial ad:
Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I w… https://t.co/KrYK2ttOd5— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1536154794.0
What was Nike thinking?— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1536317798.0
Other Twitter users seemed eager to call the President out, however:
@realDonaldTrump A few days ago, my buddies and I bought 30 pair of @Nike sneakers, 50 pair of socks, 20 pair of sh… https://t.co/x2pDYwidG2— Vinnie the Blue but Red (Sox Fan) (@Vinnie the Blue but Red (Sox Fan))1536359308.0
@realDonaldTrump 1. They believe in personal freedom. 2. They believe black lives matter. 3. They want to increase… https://t.co/oAgEgabYF9— John Pavlovitz (@John Pavlovitz)1536375779.0
@realDonaldTrump Sir, if you are going to assail people and businesses because they don’t agree with you, at the ve… https://t.co/LEbOwyM3cr— Pamela Kirk Prentice (@Pamela Kirk Prentice)1536162227.0
Edison Trends is fairly sure, after analyzing "anonymised and aggregated e-receipts from more than 3 million consumers," that Nike is thinking their plan to ride a wave of controversy to heightened profits payed off in a big way:
Nike's 2018 late summer sales show much the same trend as last year's, with order volume decreasing slightly going into late August. The similarity decreases coming out of Labor Day weekend, however, with sales seeing a bigger bump on Monday and Tuesday than in the past.
@ajplus @Fortune It’s almost like they know what there doing— Dylan Heckman (@Dylan Heckman)1536357529.0
@ajplus @shaeera_k @Fortune @realDonaldTrump My man, you got your answer right there..... 😂 https://t.co/7o4ciCib27— Lethu Kapueja (@Lethu Kapueja)1536463681.0
But while Nike is undoubtably partnering with Kaepernick because of his economic value, Kaepernick himself is still motivated by trying to raise awareness of a very real issue. Former NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar wrote in an open letter to NFL owners:
It's been two years since Colin Kaepernick first took a knee to protest systemic racial injustice, especially police brutality, against people of color. The worst thing about that isn't that two years later we're still debating whether players have the right to protest, it's that not much has changed regarding what Kaepernick was protesting.
I can say, with full conviction, that people will look back at these morons burning their nikes, doing everything i… https://t.co/UZjRjdreuy— Francis Maxwell (@Francis Maxwell)1536253806.0