Nike’s Kaeper­nick stand a mar­ket­ing win

The Prince George Citizen - - Sports - Sarah HALZACK Bloomberg

A year ago this week, Nike in­serted it­self into a smol­der­ing cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal con­tro­versy: it un­veiled an ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paign cel­e­brat­ing Colin Kaeper­nick, the for­mer NFL player who had protested po­lice treat­ment of African Amer­i­cans by kneel­ing dur­ing the na­tional an­them.

Al­most im­me­di­ately, there were so­cial me­dia rum­blings about a Nike boy­cott and chat­ter about whether the ad was a mis­take. U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump said at the time that the ath­letic ap­parel gi­ant sent “a ter­ri­ble mes­sage” with the ad, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion about the po­ten­tial for a shopper backlash.

Now the im­pas­sioned rhetoric and out­raged hash­tags are all but for­got­ten. With the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, it’s clear that the ad cam­paign – or the up­roar that fol­lowed – hasn’t hurt Nike at all.

Nike re­mains an ex­tremely pop­u­lar brand. In UBS’s lat­est an­nual sur­vey of U.S. consumers about ath­letic brands, Nike re­ceived the high­est “net pro­moter score,” a com­mon in­dus­try met­ric meant to cap­ture how likely shop­pers are to rec­om­mend a brand to a friend. UBS’s sur­vey also found that shop­pers’ per­cep­tions of Nike have largely im­proved or re­mained un­changed since last year’s sur­vey, which was con­ducted prior to the Kaeper­nick con­tro­versy.

An­other in­vest­ment bank re­search re­port shows en­thu­si­asm for Nike footwear. A Stifel re­port from Au­gust an­a­lyzed feed­back from more than 100 sneaker re­tail­ers about what was in de­mand dur­ing the cru­cial back-to-school shop­ping sea­son. Nike was the most pop­u­lar style in 81 per cent of those store checks, up from 67 per cent dur­ing the back-to-school rush last year.

It’s no won­der, then, that Nike’s North Amer­ica sales growth has been solid since the Kaeper­nick ad. In fact, this divi­sion looked much health­ier in the fis­cal year ended May 31 than it did the year be­fore.

And what about in­vestors? They have stuck by the com­pany, too. Shares are up nearly eight per cent since the last trad­ing day be­fore the Kaeper­nick ad was re­vealed. Nike’s shares gen­er­ally have moved with the broader S&P 500 In­dex in the past year – sug­gest­ing that when they did re­treat, it was more a re­flec­tion of larger mar­ket or eco­nomic con­cerns.

Fi­nally, it’s worth not­ing that in the week af­ter the de­but of the ad, none of the an­a­lysts tracked by Bloomberg down­graded the stock. To­day, the com­pany has more buy rat­ings than it did a year ago. Nike’s ex­pe­ri­ence shows that it is plenty pos­si­ble for a cor­po­ra­tion to take a stand on a po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive is­sue and not get burned – so long as the foray is well-ex­e­cuted and feels au­then­tic to its long­stand­ing im­age.

It’s a les­son worth keep­ing in mind this week as Wal­mart un­der­takes new ef­forts to cur­tail sales of am­mu­ni­tion fol­low­ing a mass shoot­ing at one of its big-box stores. Of course, th­ese are not per­fect par­al­lels. It’s dif­fi­cult to mea­sure, but it is pos­si­ble that Nike re­mained un­scathed in part be­cause it took a stand that was broadly pop­u­lar with peo­ple who al­ready like Nike. Given Wal­mart’s deep roots in ru­ral Amer­ica, it may find its new gun poli­cies are not eas­ily em­braced by some of its core cus­tomers.

Still, both re­tail gi­ants are beloved by mil­lions and en­joy decades of ac­cu­mu­lated good­will and shopper trust. In Wal­mart’s case, it is of­ten the most con­ve­niently lo­cated and best-priced store in town. Wal­mart can count on those at­tributes to over­come any qualms among shop­pers about its pol­i­tics.

AP FILE PHOTO

Peo­ple walk by a Nike advertisem­ent fea­tur­ing Colin Kaeper­nick in New York in Septem­ber 2018.

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