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Sports Celebrity Endorsements: The Kaepernick/Nike controversial advertising campaign

By Athena Constantinou, Managing Director, APC Sports Consulting, Nicosia, Cyprus   Brands bet big on star athletes and athletes are compensated handsomely in the brand endorsement business. Sports celebrities can make brands stand out, become known to the public, as well as become familiar and relevant to the individual consumer.  However, there have been cases where brands have suffered the consequences of bad publicity that stemmed from the misconduct and misbehaviour of the endorsing sports celebrity. However, the case of Colin Kaepernick, an American football quarterback and currently a ‘free agent’, is not one where the sports celebrity has behaved badly during the course of an advertising campaign! The events which led to his controversial reputation were a pre-existing fact, long before the Nike campaign was launched to celebrate thirty years of their ‘Just do it’ advertising slogan; the ad is actually promoting Kaepernick’s rebellious character and, his personal beliefs, which have led to his controversial reputation. In 2016 Kaepernick caused a firestorm of controversy when he chose to kneel on one knee instead of standing for the American National Anthem before the start of NFL games. He chose to do so as a protest against racial injustice in the US. His action generated positive and negative reactions. See further on the ‘bend the knee’ controversy the post of 11 July 2018 by Prof Dr Ian Blackshaw on the GSLTR website. As a result of utilizing Kaepernick with his message “Believe in something.  Even if it means sacrificing everything”, Nike has sparked a worldwide controversy, including calls to boycott and burn its products, all of which, of course, has given the brand unparalleled publicity. In the case of Kaepernick, we have an athlete, who does not even have a playing contract for the season, but who is actually cashing in big time on the attributes of his personal brand:  his rebellious character; his activism; and his strong beliefs for which ‘he is willing to sacrifice everything’. It can be deduced from the above that the commercialisation of a sports persona’s brand can prove to be more lucrative than the monetary rewards received from the playing field, if utilized creatively! Obviously, this is not a case where the celebrity’s ‘bad behaviour’ during a campaign has had a detrimental effect on the advertised brand.  The attributes of the particular sports persona are the exact ones that Nike wanted to project to the public and associate itself with. Nowadays, consumers want to know what their favorite brands stand for. In this case, the brand has aligned itself with Kaepernick and what he represents and, admittedly, Nike has taken a risk, since the campaign could lead to both positive and negative associations with the brand.  However, the attention the brand has received, despite the negative criticism, has brought Nike in the spotlight which, in itself, renders the campaign successful! In fact, within 24 hours of launching the ad with Kaepernick, Nike received 2.7 billion mentions in social media; received support publicly from various celebrities; and even President Trump ‘tweeted’ on its campaign! The actual commercial results of the Nike campaign are yet unknown.  Attracting the spotlight on the Nike brand, however, has definitely been achieved. In other words, getting people to talk about your advertising, even including criticism of it, seems to be paying off! Shades of the shock-advertising campaigns of ‘The United Colors of Benetton’ in the nineteen-eighties!   Athena Constantinou may be contacted by e-mail at ‘This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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