The Youth Lab

Nike Just Did It: Why youth think the new Nike rules

“Of course Nike did this on purpose. It’s genius. In fact, it’s the best damn thing a brand has done this year. Why? Because Nike are playing the long game, not the short one. Nike has raised the middle finger to a whole lot of conservative, older Americans. You know, the ones that buy one pair of discounted $80 sneakers every two years. But in doing so, they’ve repositioned themselves to an entire generation of new fans. Young people. And in case you didn’t realise, young people buy a lot of sneakers.” Ben Campbell, Senior Strategist at Lego, on LinkedIn.


As we write this, Nike’s shares are currently at an all-time high. But early in September 2018, athleisure brand Nike’s shares dropped. This happened after they made Colin Kaepernick a face of its latest advertising campaign marking 30 years of the famous ‘Just Do It’ slogan. Kaepernick is the NFL quarterback who kicked off a protest movement in 2016 over policy brutality by kneeling in support of ‘Black Lives Matter’ during the US national anthem before a game. Punished for his activism, he hasn’t been able to secure a spot on an NFL team since.

The campaign slogan? “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Working with a divisive figure proved to be a divisive move. Some credited it a stroke of genius, while others are calling for a boycott of the company (some people are trying to get the brand’s clothing banned).


Let there be no further debate this was (and is) the right thing for the brand to do. Put simply, here are five reasons why Nike’s new campaign hit the mark for youth...

1. Nike stood for something. Not only that, but it was able to stand for something that mattered and resonated with its audience because it KNEW who its audience was. Under 35s, the key cohort for Nike, are, in general, a more liberal demographic. Within this demographic, 78% of consumers feel it’s important for brands to take a stand on social or political issues. Nike did so with unwavering intent.

2. The campaign wasn’t about their products or a sponsorship deal – it was about a real (and simple) purpose. It went above and beyond the brand’s functional benefits, reinforcing them cleverly and subtly.

3. Nike made a statement that made sense for Nike. The 30 year old ‘Just Do It’ slogan gave Nike the credibility to make this bold move (Nike ‘just did it’). It brought it back to the very roots of what everyone knows (and loves). It’s worked before, and now, it’s earned its future-proofing refresh.

4. By standing for something, Nike acted like a challenger brand. While Nike is not a brand that feels like it needs a reboot, by fearlessly polarising and standing up for what’s right, it garnered relevance, praise and attention from youth. On the one hand #boycottnike is doing the rounds and Donald Trump was tweeting his disapproval. People actually started sharing pictures of themselves burning their clothing and 5% of people claimed that they tore the Nike logo off their clothing. On the other hand, the brand was refreshed in the eyes of youth, 29% of males under 35 said that they would buy more Nike products in the future. In the days since the campaign launch, Nike has declared a 31% bump in online sales. Youth are voting with their wallets, proving social justice is good for business.

5. On a less-serious note, the campaign creative is memorable and meme-able. It’s inspired serious and not so serious knock-offs and false news spread fast. Arguably the most complimentary response a brand can garner from today’s youth is getting the meme treatment. And boy did they go for it. Meme-able content means more eyeballs... 50% of U.S. consumers aged 18 and older report seeing an ad for Nike in the past two weeks. The brand is at its highest ad awareness score since it began tracking the metric.

You can watch the full video advertisement, ‘Dream Crazy’, here.

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