About That Ad

With respect to Bill Bernbach, the point of advertising is to get noticed.

If you can’t get noticed, nothing else matters.

What’s particularly interesting in the modern age is that even though attention is vital for any advertising campaign to be considered a success, many brands only want to embrace the positive.

Marketers are instructed to either not engage with, or attempt to minimize the impact of, negative comments on social media platforms. There was a point where “two replies, ask to direct message, and then no longer engage” was considered a best practice, regardless of the legitimacy of the grievance.

Perhaps because of the permanency of the internet, in an age where a comment about microtransaction practices in Star Wars Battlefront II became the most downvoted in Reddit history, brands are looking to exert their control over the narrative.

There is no room for any viewpoint not complementary, or at least constructive, towards the product, but just as every person is different, there are always going to be unsatisfied customers, or people who don’t agree with the messaging.

To pretend otherwise is ludicrous.

This past week, for the 30th anniversary of their popular “Just Do It” campaign, Nike barrelled through negativity without a care, and in the process reminded everyone what a great marketing campaign looks like.

The campaign has always been aspirational, about pushing the limits of what we are capable of, and much of the associated commercial shows exactly that: a high schooler who was both homecoming queen and linebacker; a man who beat brain cancer, proceeded to lose 120 pounds, and became an Ironman; LeBron James using the platform and money that he has earned over his illustrious career to open his own school and give back to the at-risk children in his hometown.

This sounds like a lovely advertisement - and it is - but what really brings it all together, what elevates it from just an ad to something that cannot be ignored, is the presence of quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick was the one who lead the charge of protesting during the playing of the United States anthem, taking a knee to bring attention to police brutality and racial injustice. This current season is his second as a free agent, and as no team has signed him, he has essentially been stripped of his vocation.

Kaepernick’s plight aside, this is an incredibly contentious and divisive scenario.

For every person who believes that the protests amount to free speech and are protected under the United States constitution is met by someone else who believes that protesting during the anthem disrespects the country and its armed forces, people who fought and died for those very freedoms.

By not only incorporating Kaepernick into their campaign, but by making him the face of the campaign, Nike established their position on the issue, even amid threats of boycotts, destruction of their products, and a swift and immediate backlash from those on the opposite side.

Remember the point of advertising.

Through their association with Kaepernick, Nike got everyone talking.

They made people notice them.

Obviously, supporters of Kaepernick were talking about Nike, as the company built this campaign around him and his beliefs, about standing for something even if it costs everything.

Across the aisle, those who arranged boycotts and destroyed merchandise were still talking about Nike, and doubtless their outrage had the reverse intended effect.

Nike’s online sales increased 31% from Sunday to Tuesday over the Labour Day weekend. On the holiday itself, the company released a black-and-white print ad of Kaepernick’s face with the tagline from the commercial, which was released online two days later, and proceeded to air during the first game of the NFL season.

We’ve become used to the whitewashing of negativity, of contentiousness - we only want people to say nice things, and we don’t want to piss anyone off.

But to quote Bernbach once again, “if you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody for you, and nobody against you.”

Brands can survive negative sentiment, but they certainly can’t survive something increasingly prevalent in the modern age.

They can’t survive apathy.