"Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything." With that nine-word tweet, sent on a quiet Sunday afternoon in September, Nike and Colin Kaepernick kicked off a campaign that would go on to win fans, create enemies and refuel a conversation about the role brands shouldor should notplay in tackling societal issues.
Depending on who you asked, Nike was either a crusader for social justice or an unpatriotic agitator making a hero out of the man who started the movement of NFL players kneeling during the national anthem as a means to bring attention to racial inequities. Kaepernick was not the only athlete in the campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of the "Just Do It" slogan, but he narrated one spot, which quickly became a lightening rod. Spike Lee praised Nike for being "on the right side of history." Republican Sen. Ted Cruz bashed the brand for being "on the wrong side of the American people."
Either way, Nike ended up right where it needs to be: in the middle of a debate that drew attention, admiration andmost importantlysales from the urban millennials it needs to keep the swoosh strong. Along the way, the company proved it pays to take a stand, and it put to shame mealy-mouthed brands that claim to plug into culture but fall short with marketing that fails to portray a point of view on anything at all.