Nike and the Arrogance of Moral Certainty

Image source: Sole Collector

Social impact is not a strategy; it’s a responsibility. It’s a moral imperative, not a marketing plan.
Should my words fail me, I want to first establish that I am against police brutality, racism, bigotry and intolerance in absolute and unconditional terms.

What follows is not a political statement on my behalf or on behalf of the American Marketing Association. Rather, I aim to point out the wrong-headedness of Nike’s marketing decision to feature Colin Kaepernick as its moral paragon in celebration of the 30th anniversary of its epic brand declaration, “Just Do It.”

I am not opposed to anyone’s right to expression whenever and wherever they choose. My question, or challenge, is what responsibility comes along with that right? Further, what judgement comes along with that right?

Critical social and societal issues such as police brutality and racism warrant the full attention of our citizenry until they are extinguished from the planet. Period. Are there any forums in which these serious issues are unwanted? Should a brand “on a mission” care?

For many brands today, the blurry line between purpose and profit presents a knotty management issue. Allow me to share my own perspective.

There are few more ardent fans of the Nike brand than I. I’ve spent countless hours deconstructing the magical elixir constituting the Nike brand. I could never get enough of it as a marketing professional or an avid runner, and it has served as a source of inspiration for my own career in marketing — earning me the nickname “flamethrower” in one industry publication.

Like Nike, I agree there are times when it is more important to be provocative than pleasant. However, from a marketing point of view, it is my counsel to brand owners that it is unnecessarily dangerous, commercially or morally, to drape a politically incendiary cape around your brand and delude yourself into thinking it makes you a superhero.


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