Learnings from Nike’s Dream Crazy Advertisement

Last week Nike unveiled Dream Crazy, its boldest and most controversial advertisement that reaped a whirlwind of mixed reactions.

click picture to see the video

Its detractors, including the President of the United States, were scandalized and enraged by the sport brand’s foray into politics. Some even threatened to burn Nike shoes. Its supporters, however, contributed to a 31% increase in its online sales.

The episode raises the question of whether a brand should wade into a toxic political atmosphere and it has profound implications for marketers to millennials, particularly in Indonesia where we are in the midst of a divisive presidential election campaign.

Nike unveiled its Dream Crazy advertisement on YouTube. It featured American footballer Colin Kaepernick who was drummed out of the National Football League, America’s largest sport organization, for his beliefs. He protested against racism and police brutality by kneeling whenever the national anthem was played before a game. His protest grew into a movement and enraged Trump.

Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images
Colin Kaepernick (right) kneeling during the national anthem Copyright: Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images

Unlike most companies who prefer to distance themselves from controversies, Nike is no stranger to sparking conversations by bringing in social and political narratives to its marketing campaigns. They made headlines when featuring openly gay, HIV-positive runner Ric Munoz in 1995, and when they highlighted gender stereotypes issue in sports back in 2012.

Making such bold statements, however, is not without its own risks.

Political and social commentators in the US believe Nike’s Kaepernick advertisement was a polarizing political endorsement that is harmful and divisive to Americans. Others even accused Nike of commercializing politics. What followed is a boycott of Nike product and social media outrage under the #BurnYourNikes from Americans who think that Nike has gone too far for being partisan.

It seems that Nike had anticipated the controversy that the advertisement would court, and what that decision could possibly cost them. Nike knew that by giving Kaepernick a spotlight, they would need to make sacrifices – in this case losing some of their longstanding and potential customers, as well as their shares’ value. The upside, however, must have been relevance to existing and potentially new fans.

So, we are left with a question. Why was Nike willing to jeopardize its reputation and profits by going political?

Most brands are risk-averse, especially when it comes to political risk. In a fledgling democracy like Indonesia, this is even more so. Brands remain reluctant to weigh in on political issues because of the risks to their business and relationships with the customers. They do not want to be seen alienating a certain group of customers in favor of the others. Most brands just want to play safe and focus on a message that appeals to a mass audience.

But are these assumptions still valid in a population increasingly dominated by Millennial age voters and consumers?

The Boston Consulting Group 2017 report on Millennials consumers pointed out that this group are more critical and more receptive to cause-related marketing. Millennials expect companies to care and act on social political issues, and they won’t hesitate to reward brands that are pro-active with their support and loyalty.

This must have been part of Nike’s calculation when it took the plunge into making a political statement. And it paid off.

There were overwhelmingly more people who support Nike’s bold stance than those who oppose it, as seen from the overall sentiment on social media and surge of Nike’s online sales following the advertisement.

So, what does this mean for Indonesian brands? Does it mean that they too can connect with their Millennial customers by taking a political stance? Would they be rewarded with higher sales or penalized for trespassing on the territory so far occupied by professional politicians only?

The answer is very Millennial-ish: it depends.

Largely on the following considerations:

Understanding your purpose and your audience
Before deciding whether going political is the right strategy, you first need to understand the purpose and the values of your brand. Question your motives. Are you sure your corporate character genuinely allows you to care about the cause and not make you look like you’re just cynically exploiting a hot issue to make a profit?

Since the stakes are high, brands need to conduct thorough research on what are the causes that their customers truly care about and whether it’s aligned with your brand’s values and consistent with your brand’s equity. Don’t push it if you feel the cause is not meaningful enough to your company or your target audience. Being authentic and relevant to your customers is important.

Understanding the risks and opportunity
Do weigh out how many stakeholders will be alienated by your stance and how many can you win over. Do you see an opportunity for your brand to lead the change with your stance? Can your company afford some losses and ready for backlash? Yes, crisis and issues management preparedness is crucial. I bet Nike had a crisis management response plan on their sleeves when they launched the Dream Crazy advertisement.

Getting political is not for everyone. Unless you have clear and thoughtful answers to above questions, better not to get into the realm of politics just yet.

Respecting local culture and norms
Even if your brand has the type of character that allows it to take risks, espouse a cause and venture into political statements, what works in other markets might not work in Indonesia. Brands therefore need to consider local culture and norms that are largely accepted in Indonesia. Have you thought about factors that might influence Indonesians’ ability to accept a political message, such as their religious prejudices, education and literacy gap, and economic background?

Knowing the right timing is also important when you are considering to inject a more political message to your brand’s campaign. Even then, choosing sides in the run-up to next year’s presidential elections may not be a good idea. It’s better to embrace causes that few can argue against, such as diversity and individual freedom.

Taking a political stance, with Indonesian characteristics, is not unprecedented in this country. Take for example A Mild’s “Bukan Basa Basi” or “No Small Talk” campaign that was started nearing the end of Soeharto’s era. The advertisement in this campaign took a subtle jab at Soeharto’s then elite Javanese-style politics which was deemed lacking in authenticity and circumspect. Shortly after Soeharto’s regime collapsed, A Mild’s “Bukan Basa Basi” became a monumental line that was used to express people’s desire for more honest politics and an open system.

One of the advertisements under A Mild’s Bukan                        Basa Basi campaign

Learning from other’s experiences, Nike got political and it paid off. A Mild got political and it managed to get away with it. How crazy will the dreams of brands in Indonesia be. Will they pay off or turn into nightmares?

Perhaps we’ll never know until brands take a cue from Kaepernick in the advertisement: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”

Nike and Kaepernick’s powerful message


Written by: Karina Prameswari, Sr. Consultant

Edited by: Ong Hock Chuan

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