Nike’s controversial and successful ad
Sara Sargent
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What Can You Learn from this Emmy-Winning Commercial?

Controversy and brand names don’t frequently pair well. It takes a smart marketing team to turn a polarizing topic into a marketable good. However, in September 2018, that’s exactly what Nike managed to do.

In the company’s “Dream Crazy” commercial, Nike brought several star athletes together to emphasize the importance of reaching your goals. Among these athletes? Football player-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick, after being the first to “take a knee” during the national anthem at a football game, has been shunned by the NFL. He remains unsigned for a team to this day, in fact. Despite that, Nike still made him the face of this recent marketing campaign—a campaign so successful, it won an Emmy.

Scoring Emmys may not be your next business goal. But what can you learn from Nike’s commercial tactics?

Standing Behind Your Community

While Kaepernick serves as the narrator and primary face of this commercial, marketers did not opt to make the commercial completely about him. Nike’s commercial stars athletes both young and old who have struggled to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve their ambitions.

Among these athletes are Lacy Baker, the first openly queer women sponsored by Nike, and Shaquem Griffin, a Seattle Seahawks player who plays despite only having one hand.

While Kaepernick may have started a national controversy, he is seen in the ad as one voice among many trying to bring changes to the world of sports. It’s a prime example of a brand using its significant power to forge stronger connections with an audience. The commercial imbues viewers with a sense of connection—if a consumer can see themselves achieving their athletic dreams like Griffin or Baker, then why wouldn’t they buy the gear those athletes wear?

Social Awareness

Nike also capitalized on consumers’ renewed relationship with social activism. Pepsi tried this with its Jenner commercial but failed spectacularly. What’s different here.

All of the athletes in the Nike commercial have wrought change within their industry. They are also wildly diverse. Nike sought to capture that diversity and use it to inspire and sell.

Not only that, but the company capitalized on Kaepernick’s activism. The former star has been shunned by the NFL due to his stance on U.S. racial politics. By bringing him on to its commercial, Nike suggests to viewers that the company believes in the work Kaepernick is doing. It says to consumers: if a company like Nike can support activists like Kaepernick, maybe he is more than just a discussion point. Maybe he has something valuable to say.

With more millennial consumers trying to shop ethically, that move holds a lot of power.

Will Your Commercials Win an Emmy?

Sure, awards are great—but will you add a heavy dose of political activism into your commercials to gain global awareness? Probably not. But it might serve your company well to embrace the political framework of the modern moment. As emphasized by Terry Pratchet and many who came before him, we live in interesting times. If you want to continue selling your products and building loyalty with consumers, you might choose not to ignore the world those customers live in.

Why not use your commercials to build a sense of community among your audience? Why not explore some of the social politics that are on the rise, internationally? Do your research first, of course, to avoid a social blunder. But when you reach out and engage with the issues that your community is invested in, you’ll see improved engagement (and maybe even an Emmy). 

Image attribution: pavel siamionov – stock.adobe.com

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