How Your Business Can Stand for Something Without Losing Everything

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What was your initial reaction when you saw that Nike ad? Before you read any feedback, did you love it or hate it? Did it strike a chord somewhere deep inside your value storage or did it make you feel that flashpoint anger rarely ignited by a photo?

Which meme did you share? Was it a strong objection that involved a fallen soldier or low Nike wages in China? Or did you go with one of the more lighthearted ones?

Whether you burned your Nike gear or celebrated their marketing decision, you probably wondered how the ad would impact their business. Is there a way businesses can stand for their beliefs without the backlash costing them customers? Should your business use controversial issues in advertising, or is that brand suicide?

First, let’s look at the pros and cons of embracing controversy in advertising. Then we’ll talk about some of the ways you can stand up for your beliefs and at the same time ignite a base of strong brand advocates.

Nike Kaepernick Campaign Pros

Let’s set aside politics for a minute and focus on the marketing. A good ad connects with the target audience, raises brand awareness and ultimately brings in revenue. If you shook your head and wondered what the Nike team could possibly have been thinking, revisit the ad in terms of those goals.

Connecting With The Target Audience

The athletic apparel company told Business Insider it’s focusing on these groups:

  • Women in their 20s and 30s — They spend literally billions of dollars on sports bras, tights and “athleisure” apparel in addition to their Nike kicks.
  • Young athletes — The company sponsors youth athletic clubs, federations and leagues to attract young customers. They have partnerships with famous athletes, so aspiring pros grow up seeing their role models at the peak of their performance in Nike gear.
  • Runners — This one makes sense for a company founded on athletic shoes. Nike stays true to its heritage with running apparel, its Nike+ app etc.

Those groups cover a broad age range However, a big chunk of the young athletes/runners segment includes a core base of males between the ages of 18 and 29.

So how did Nike do? Did they hit the mark they were aiming for?

A Quinnipac University poll talked to American voters and found they approve Nike’s choice to include the ex-quarterback by a 49 to 37 percent margin. Sixty-seven percent, over two-thirds of respondents between 18 and 34 years old said they supported the ad.

Raising Brand Awareness

Almost as soon as the ad aired, the backlash started. At the same time, celebrities and influencers stepped forward in support of Nike.

Tennis star Serena Williams said she was “especially proud to be a part of the Nike family,” on the day she saw it. Former boxer Oscar De La Hoya said, “I live in America for a reason….Nike is doing the right thing.”

Nike created a conversation. Opinions on NFL protests varied widely depending on the race and political party of those polled. The ad held a match to those strong feelings and created conversations.

You saw those conversations on social media between your friends. You may have had them at the dinner table with your family members.

Whether you loved or hated it, you were talking about it. Chances are even if you’re against the way Kaepernick and Nike approached the issue, you still support their free speech. You might disagree with the actual protest, but you stand for the right to protest.

YouGov tracks public opinion globally. After September 3 they found 50 percent of US consumers age 18 and up reported seeing a Nike ad in the past two weeks, the highest awareness Nike scored in years. Nikes Word of Mouth score also hit a new high of 46 percent.

Increasing Revenue

How did the ad impact Nike’s bottom line? Right after the campaign, sales slid by some reports as much as 18 percent, but since then they’ve more than recouped their losses. Time reported a 31 percent increase in online sales over the Labor Day holiday.

Cons of Taking a Stand

There’s a buzz now, but will the Kaepernick ad continue to be a good thing for the company? Once the dust settles, will sales stay up? When companies take a stand, they risk the following:

  • Unhappy investors — When #NikeBoycott was a trending Twitter topic, company shares plummeted during midday trading. Investors don’t like uncertainty.
  • Lost customers — People burned their gear. That’s not just disagreement, that’s fury.
  • Negative public opinion — You probably know from your own social media feed of people who were Nike fans, now they’re switching to another brand. The ad alienated customers.
  • You could help your competition — In reaction to the ad, we heard “Under Armour” a lot. Adidas shares also went up.

Controversy and Your Business

Addressing a political or social issue will create a buzz, but is it worth it? You could win the hearts of consumers, but will the end result cost you what you’ve sacrificed to build? If you decide to stand up for what you believe in, keep these things in mind:

Know what resonates with your clients. Before you tweet your reaction on an emotionally charged issue or approve an ad your team creates around a hot topic, learn what your buyers, patients or users care about. Don’t assume. Gather data. Make sure you also consider your employees.

Explore how it could backfire. Given what you know about your target audience, what are all the possible reactions they could have? Ask yourself why you’re choosing that issue. If you think the shock value will bring you publicity, don’t. If you’re just trying to hit people’s trigger points you’ll likely damage your brand. Unless it’s a topic your brand feels strongly about and actually connects with, people will see it as a publicity stunt.

Prepare for hate. If you put it out there, you’re asking for a reaction. Some of that reaction will be negative. Have a plan for how you’ll respond from the beginning so you’re thoughtful and prepared, not panicky and defensive. Be gracious and understanding even when you’re responding to furious consumers. Show sensitivity for those with an alternative viewpoint. Invite feedback instead of fearing it. Take oppositional comments seriously to win hearts and minds.

Marketing is tricky. If you’re not sure, it’s better to hold back than to play with fire.

An even better choice involves talking to marketing professionals with a track record of success. At Spade Design we drive traffic while increasing leads and conversions to improve your bottom line. Let’s start a conversation about growing your business today.

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