PLAYING TO THE FUTURE
Beats by Dre marketer Omar Johnson says Nike has made an ad that will move culture.
Speaking on the sidelines of the recent OMD Predicts event in Dubai, keynote speaker Omar Johnson says Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick is typical of the brand.
“If you look back at Nike and the moves they have made over the last 30 years, they have always been behind the athletes that had a point of view, a little bit of attitude,” says Johnson, the former vice-president of marketing for headphone company Beats by Dre.
Kaepernick was the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who has not played in the NFL since he left the team in 2017 after receiving criticism for kneeling during the national anthem the previous year. He said he was ‘taking a knee’ in protest against police brutality meted out against African Americans, and has since claimed NFL team owners have conspired to keep him out of the sport. His actions at the e time sparked ire from US President resident Donald Trump, and when hen Nike released an ad fronted by Kaepernick on September 3, 2018, it was followed by a flurry of protest, including ncluding videos on social media of Americans ericans burning their Nike merchandise. e.
Despite the backlash, Johnson – who led advertising at Nike for six years before joining Beats eats in 2010 – said the sports brand will have done its homework.
“For me [the Kaepernick nick ad] didn’t feel like a big risk,” he says. “If you look at what Nike is choosing, hoosing, they are choosing a group of f young consumers that shape the he future, at the risk of losing some 45- or 50-year-old guys who may not agree with Colin Kaepernick. . At the end of the day, Nike bets on the he future, and you can see it in their heir stock price, you can see it in the response to the spot.”
Immediately following ng the September 3 announce- uncement that Kaepernick would narrate its ad, Nike’s share hare price dipped, but by September 21 its market et value had risen 5 per cent, ent, adding $6bn to its worth. th.
Nike, says Johnson, “made a choice between n the attitude and voice of the future and the past. .I I can’t knock a brand that at chooses the future versus us the past.”
He says brands “have e always got to find ways to recharge the next generation of shoppers, , no matter how old and established they are”. The Kaepernick effect could lead to other athletes being seen as more than just sportsmen or sportswomen. “If you look at how Nike celebrates the athletes in the commercial, it’s not LeBron [James, the basketball player, who also appears in the ad] dunking a basketball, it’s LeBron dedicating a school he’s created for kids in his neighbourhood,” says Johnson. The move by Nike could be a “lightning rod” that will change how other brands work as well. “They should probably catch up, because the athletes see themselves as more than athletes at this point,” says Johnson. He adds: “You look at where the world is today, and we need more leaders to emerge. And to shine a light on where people need to go. I think it is a great thing, and I think you will see more athletes making that choice to express themselves.” Focusing only on sports stars’ ability on the track, field or pitch is “unfair” when they do much more after the cameras go off. Johnson likes to speak about brands “moving culture”, and says Nike’s strategy is an example of this. The Kaepernick spot isn’t about making people feel good about the brand, he says, but is a call to action for people to stand up, for athletes to use their voice to make things better. “There you have a classic move of shifting culture,” says Johnson, “where you and I are having conversations about all athletes now having a responsibility to speak on the things they care about, to speak to things they are passionate about”. When it comes to brands finding their own way to shift culture, Johnson says that often the answer is a lot of hard work, speaking to consumers. “It’s the worst kept secret on the planet, but nine times out of 10 it’s with your consumer,” he says. However, conversations should go deeper than marketers are often ready to delve. “They tend to stop with the really easy answers,” says Johnson. “Why I go back to the ‘Why?’ is you can continue to ask ‘Why?’ multiple times, and continue to pull things out. Most marketers stop when they get the answer they expect, when they get the answer that roughly surprises them. They don’t continue four questions down into the ‘Why?’ to really understand the emotion of it.” When they do, as Nike has shown, the payoff can be huge.