What’s the real feeling towards Nike’s Colin Kaepernick caper?
Brands’ use of athlete endorsement is obviously commonplace. As is the awareness that controversy could always be lurking around the corner (Roger Federer aside) if the athlete misbehaves and how that might impact the brand through its association.
However, in typical style, Nike has pushed the envelope once again. It’s jumped with both feet into an athlete already mired in an enormous national, social and political controversy, through his decision not to stand for the US national anthem in protest at the treatment of black people by the US legal system.
To get a picture of what people think of Nike’s use of Kaepernick, we used social media monitoring platform Brandwatch to analyse nearly 400,000 mentions of the issue. This revealed that 12% of those mentions had a negative sentiment – exactly the same level as positive sentiment – with the remaining 76% being neutral.
The relatively small share of negative mentions is probably a surprise to many people given that the media coverage is so focused around the boycotts and burning of Nike gear.
In the media’s defense, #boycottNike and #NikeBoycott were the 3rd and 5th most popular hashtags used. But again, context is required and these hashtags only feature in around 2.2% of mentions and were nearly as commonplace as supportive hashtags such as #takeaknee and #imwithkap.
The genuine polarisation the issue has created is also indicated by analysing the emojis used in people’s conversations (see graphic below), although the majority of these tend to be of a positive nature. The laughing emojis are used in great numbers by both people for and against the issue.
However, the most illuminating emoji – and the most common one – is the puzzled/thinking face which perhaps, without wishing to sound trite, encapsulates the whole issue.
This emoji is more likely to be used in a negative sentiment, such as questioning whether Kaepernick has “sacrificed everything”, particularly when compared to Pat Tillman, the NFL star killed in duty after enlisting in the US Army due to the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Indeed, as the word cloud below shows, Tillman is the most common person mentioned in the issue after Donald Trump (and narrowly ahead of tennis star and fellow Nike ambassador Serena Williams). One conclusion is that although sentiment is fairly evenly split, the depth of feeling – and the reason for this depth – is stronger amongst those who are against Nike’s association with Kaepernick.Source: Brandwatch
So, whether or not this is a smart long-term brand association for Nike in terms of its brand and sales, of course only time will really tell. On the surface, it would seem that sales would not be impacted as sentiment is equally split but, of course, this assumes that falling sales from people boycotting Nike would be offset by rising sales among people in favour of the campaign, which isn’t necessarily the case. Particularly because the depth of negative sentiment is stronger – so, the argument being people would be more committed to stopping a particular behaviour rather than doing more of it, particularly over time once the initial reaction starts to fade.
A prime example of the uncertainty about which way it could end up falling comes courtesy of the outcry in the UK a few months ago against the cosmetics brand Lush following its ad campaign protesting at undercover policing. The backlash on social media and in the press was enormous yet sales actually rose 13%. Clearly, the campaign had resonated positively with a strong section of people, many of whom would have remained silent or had their voices drowned out by the dissenters. There’s also the adage that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Whichever way it falls, the key lesson from a brand’s point of view is the importance of digging deeper into people’s reactions and feelings to get a much more balanced and nuanced view of what is happening on the ground. Rather than thinking that the media’s focus on the few shouting loudest is representative of the mass thinking and the consequent impact on both the brand and sales.