Capping off 10 months of escalating advertising insanity, apparel giant Nike has spent the last few weeks pursuing a bipolar marketing strategy of backing divisive social justice movements while helping repressive authoritarian regimes stomp free speech. The company’s behavior has left Americans seeing red.
Most American consumers are probably more familiar with Nike’s recent for-profit bow to social justice causes. Nike planned to release its “Air Max 1 USA” shoe, featuring a small Betsy Ross flag on the heel, in time for Independence Day. After former NFL quarterback and Nike spokesman Colin Kaepernick complained that the company “shouldn’t sell a shoe with a symbol that he and others consider offensive,” Nike pulled the product off the shelves in early July.
Nike Pledges Allegiance to the Money
Despite negative headlines, after Nike canceled the shoe, its stocks increased by 2 percent, adding almost $3 billion to the company’s market value. Those numbers hardly compare to Nike’s returns on its last marketing ploy that featured Kaepernick, who has made headlines for wearing shirts featuring Fidel Castro and sporting socks with pigs dressed as policemen.
In September 2018, Nike released an ad alleging Kaepernick had “sacrifice[ed] everything” by kneeling during the national anthem to protest police misconduct. Following the ad’s release, Nike achieved a 5 percent sales increase that added $6 billion to the company’s value. The ad led to a “31% increase in online sales” and created “$43 million worth of media exposure” for Nike.
In news that saturated far less of the American media, even the Washington Post claimed Nike was “kowtowing … to Beijing’s demands for censorship” when, on June 27, Nike pulled a collaboration with Japanese company Undercover from shelves in China. The move was allegedly a response to Chinese customers’ complaints after Undercover’s owner publicly pushed back against a heavily protested bill that would allow extraditing and trying citizens from Hong Kong in mainland China, one of Nike’s “largest and fastest-growing markets.”
To the consternation of those watching but to the delight of its shareholders, Nike’s strategy seems simple: follow the money.
Enough Is Enough
Nike’s stock may be ascendant, but it’s still coming at a cost to the company’s brand. Not all Americans have been pleased with the company’s decisions.
September’s campaign sparked dismay from Americans who believe Kaepernick’s protests dishonor a flag under whose stars and stripes men and women from diverse ethnicities and backgrounds have long served their country. Furthermore, given the number of brave patriots who have sacrificed their lives and futures to protect this great nation since before its founding, many found Nike’s suggestion that Kaepernick had sacrificed everything abhorrent.
What Kaepernick sacrificed was money. The former professional athlete lost roughly 70 percent of his seven-year, $126 million NFL contract when he opted out of the final year of his contract with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017.
By all accounts, Kaepernick gained back much of that lost wealth. Sports agents speculated that the former athlete’s contract with Nike could be worth “somewhere in the ballpark of millions of dollars per year.” Additionally, in February, Kaepernick reached an unspecified resolution to a grievance filed with the NFL. The Washington Examiner, citing Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, suggests Kaepernick could have received between $60 million and $80 million.
While Nike’s confusion between Kaepernick sacrificing “everything” and sacrificing “a lot of money,” made people angry, it was the privileged star’s latest flag-related hissy fit that really riled up Americans. Rather than a symbol of hatred or racism, the Betsy Ross flag, which was designed by a Quaker woman who opposed slavery, remains a heartening reminder of the liberty the first 13 colonies in our United States of America fought hard to achieve.
To display their patriotism and their disgust at Nike’s attack on the flag, a number of companies, including Nine Line Apparel, Warrior Culture Gear, Grunt Style, Shield Republic, Warrior XII, Printed Kicks, and even the Rush Limbaugh Show Store, have flooded the marketplace with apparel featuring the Betsy Ross flag.
The #WalkAwayFromNike crowd likely contains Americans who threw in their swooshes last year, but it has almost certainly brought along new additions to the Nike boycott. As Americans turn a cold shoulder to Nike’s profit-seeking disguised as activism, there is good news: It’s easy to swap your Nikes for products that are better for the world, your bank account, and your body.
Break the Nike Routine for Something Fresher
After I took a public stand against Nike and other elements of the “resistance” in December 2018, I first had to break an ingrained Nike habit. I was accustomed to trudging every few months into a massive, retail-scented Nike outlet store, where sleekly dressed and impersonal staff hovered without offering assistance as I shoved my feet into several pairs of cute running shoes.
I could always count on leaving with a coupon that would miraculously expire just before my shoes lost the last of their wimpy tread. While the routine may not have been enjoyable, those trips were a necessity to keep up with my running practice. By February, with the heels on two sets of Nikes shaved down to bizarre 45-degree angles, I finally ventured into my local boutique running store.
Although I feared hefty prices and at least a dab of judgment, my experience was nothing short of phenomenal. The employee assisting me was an avid runner. She asked about my running routine and queried me about my shoe-induced running injuries. She examined my walk, videotaped and analyzed my running stride, and demonstrated stretches that would keep me running healthily for years in the future.
Best of all, she introduced me to two economical pairs of shoes that have changed the way I run: the Brooks Ghost 11 and the Topo Magnifly 2. “Athlete-inclusive” Topo makes lightweight shoes that have extra space in the toe box and feature a low- or zero-drop that “encourage[s] natural loading and foot motion.”
Brooks uses technology to support each individual’s “Run Signature.” As a bonus for those who want to celebrate their love of America in their footwear, the company recently released its Old Glory collection, based on the design of the American flag.
After putting more than 300 miles on each of my new pairs of shoes — using them atop treadmills and asphalt and concrete, in heat and in cold, across flat expanses and over rough hills — they have outperformed my old Nikes by leaps and bounds. My Topo shoes still look as though they are fresh out of their original box. The Brooks pair has some tread disintegration on the right heel, but the shoes are no less comfortable than when I first slipped them on.
As another benefit, I can be proud of my Nike-free routine. My shoe habit now supports small businesses and my local community. My money is going to companies whose greatest goal is to create high-quality running shoes rather than being funneled to political causes that run contrary to my deeply held affection for my country and flag.
I harbor no delusions about the effect my lone switch will have on Nike. The company will hardly miss the paltry amount I spent there annually. However, if a larger body of fed-up Americans stops buying Nike products, perhaps we can do something even more significant than hitting the company in the wallet.
Perhaps, by supporting alternative companies with superior products, we can positively affect communities around the country. Even more crucially, we can ensure the money we spend on sneakers is not redistributed to overpaid sponsors or being used to spark division and quash freedom and civil liberties at home and around the world.