When Nike chose to include Colin Kaepernick in a marketing campaign, few thought that it would result in winning an Emmy for creating an outstanding commercial. Many believed it could spell disaster for Nike, and that nothing good could come from it.

But both Nike and Colin Kaepernick had other ideas.

Even for those who don’t follow football, former NFL star Colin Kaepernick is a household name for kneeling during the National Anthem before games as a form of political activism. Whilst being a record-breaking player and a participant in Super Bowl XLVII, he’s now best known for the act of kneeling, which in itself became divisive. 

Kaepernick used his platform as a professional sportsman to protest police brutality, especially in its racially motivated form against African Americans, in a peaceful but highly visible manner. Unfortunately, the protest drew criticism as many perceived it as being disrespectful to the country and the flag, and it ultimately played a part in Kaepernick leaving his position as quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers at the start of the 2017 season.

When Nike chose to use Colin Kaepernick as one of the many famous faces in their 2018 campaign celebrating the 30th anniversary of the original “Just Do It” campaign, the reaction was immediate and intense.

Fans took to social media with photos and videos of Nike shoes being burned, vowing never to wear the brand again. College of the Ozarks in Missouri chose to remove all uniforms that were in any way related to Nike. It appeared that Nike had made a terrible mistake.

By trying to advertise their products and express inclusivity, Nike had inadvertently started a backlash that could destroy their sales.

In fact, Nike gained over 170,000 new followers on their social media platforms, and the value of their business increased. Just after the announcement of the campaign, their stock closed at $83.47, a figure they had never reached before. While a vocal minority expressed their views, the truth was a little different.

Nike’s core target audience of people aged 18 to 34 were in support of the campaign – almost half were fully in favor, and less than a third were against it. For those in a slightly older age bracket (35-44) over half (52%) fully supported the use of Colin Kaepernick in the advertising campaign.

Further success awaited Nike and Colin Kaepernick as at the 2019 Creative Arts Emmy Awards, the campaign won an Emmy for Outstanding Commercial, something that early news reports would have deemed impossible.

For a man who has stood by his values and tried to make a difference in the world, this is justification (if such justification were needed) that doing the right thing is always the right choice. For Nike, running the campaign proved that you should always “Just Do It”.