The billion-dollar athletic apparel company marked the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” campaign with a new ad on Monday that pictures a close-up of Kaepernick with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” The former NFL quarterback has not played professional football since he was signed with the San Francisco 49er in 2016 and began kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. The #TakeAKnee protest has triggered both an outpour of support and a firestorm of backlash from critics like President Donald Trump, who call the protest unpatriotic and disrespectful toward the American flag and military servicemen and servicewomen.
Rather than remaining neutral in the heated debate, Nike placed the 30-year-old athlete at the center of a major campaign, sparking an emotional fray on social media. Critics vowed not to purchase Nike products using hashtags like #NikeBoycott and #JustDont. Others went as far as to burn or cut their swoosh-branded clothes and sneakers.
According to social media analytics firm Talkwaker, there have been more than 2.7 million mentions of Nike and counting since Monday. That’s a 1,400% increase compared to the previous day. Plus, Nike brand mentions increased by 135% compared to last week.
Top social posts include a tweet from Serena Williams, who is also part of Nike’s new campaign. The post has garnered more than 178,000 engagements—a mix of likes and retweets, Talkwalker reported.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) September 4, 2018
Los Angeles Laker Kyle Kuzma also showed support for Kaepernick in a Tweet that received more than 43,000 engagements.
In addition, sports reporter Jemele Hill posted a tweet championing Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick in their campaign that went viral with 76,000 engagements.
Nike became Nike because it was built on the idea of rebellion. This is the same company that dealt w/ the NBA banning Air Jordans. They made Jordan the face of the company at a time when black men were considered to be a huge risk as pitch men. They aren’t new to this.
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) September 4, 2018
On the other hand, many tweets critical of Nike’s campaign and/or calling for a boycott also went viral, including a post from @BridgetPhetasy that received 57K engagements.
Everything about this is a mediated mind fuck. Kaepernick gets paid to represent his movement, which Nike uses to sell sneakers that are manufactured in Vietnamese sweatshops, to Americans who think they're "woke."
lol capitalism always wins. https://t.co/7j4BttHyMf
— Bridget Phetasy (@BridgetPhetasy) September 3, 2018
A post from @CharlieKirk with 46K engagements reads:
Only in America can an athlete get his education paid for (learn nothing) make it to the pros, fail as a qb, destroy a franchise, protest something that doesn’t exist, still get paid by Nike, then play the victim and blame it all on racism
— Charlie Kirk (@charliekirk11) September 4, 2018
Likewise, a tweet from country music star John Rich received 40,000 engagements.
— John Rich (@johnrich) September 3, 2018
Meanwhile, shares of Nike Inc., NKE, -2.68%, dropped about 3.0% in midday trade on Tuesday. Nevertheless, Oppenheimer analyst Brian Nagel said the backlash Nike is experiencing won’t last long. “No doubt, [Nike’s] decision to feature Kaepernick prominently in its latest marking effort will spur significant debate among those in athletic circles and more broadly,” Nagel said, according to MarketWatch. “Over time, for [Nike], we think the power of the messaging from this new broader campaign is apt to overshadow any potential backlash, near term, in our view.”