Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick ad in New York, Sept. 7, 2018
Alba Vigaray—EPA-EFE/Shutterstock


Taking a stand

Few companies have Nike’s knack for connecting its products to big cultural conversations—and courting controversy without hesitation. From the 1993 ad in which Charles Barkley declared “I am not a role model,” to a 2017 “Equality” marketing campaign featuring Serena Williams and LeBron James, Nike has sought to both inspire and provoke. This year, on Labor Day, Nike dropped its most charged campaign to date: billboards and TV spots centered on ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose act of kneeling during the national anthem to protest social injustice inspired both a nationwide movement and a high-voltage backlash encouraged by President Trump among others. “Believe in something,” Kaepernick says in the ads. “Even if it means sacrificing everything.” (Kaepernick remains unsigned by a team, which many attribute to his role in the protests.) Despite viral videos of outraged sneaker owners burning their Nikes, the company’s embrace of Kaepernick is looking like a savvy business move: year-over-year online sales jumped 28% from Sunday of Labor Day weekend through that Wednesday, according to Edison Trends, compared to a 2% drop the year before. Bolstered by new products like the lightweight Epic React Flynit running shoe, Nike’s stock had already climbed 33% this year through September, outpacing the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rose 7% during that period. —Sean Gregory

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