Is Nike Not as Woke as it Seems?

Blog - Nike 2

Purpose-driven marketing at its most squeamish, folks    

Ah, Nike. The shiniest, sexiest, most aspirational of brands, right? With this year's “Dream Crazy” campaign, most notably featuring Colin Kaepernick and the call to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” Nike has also made a name for itself as one of the wokest brands. Featuring a mix of elite athletes and thrilling unknowns – along with super smart scriptwriting – Nike’s “Dream Crazy” campaign was arguably the buzziest of the year. In fact, it was just named Best in Show at the One Club’s One Show awards, one of the ad industries most competitive honors.

And yet. The very same week Olympic runner and three-time U.S. national champion Alysia Montaño dropped a bombshell of an op-ed piece in the New York Times where she exposed Nike – on Mother’s Day – for “pausing” her sponsorship (aka her livelihood) when she was pregnant and during her postpartum healing time. Montaño completely reframed the idea of “sacrificing everything” in a powerful video that accompanies the article. Take a look:

“Do as I say, not as I do” marketing

Does Nike owe its female athletes maternity leave? After all, they are basically freelancers (with exclusive contracts that don’t allow them to pursue other income sources…). Can Nike penalize women financially for pregnancy? These are bigger questions than we have time for here, and Nike isn’t saying much besides “we standardized our approach.” However, from a purpose-driven marketing standpoint, the answer is clear: Nike messed up.
Under its “Dream Crazy” campaign, the brand also released the inspirational pro-woman “Dream Crazier” spot with a Serena Williams voiceover and a celebration-turned-rallying cry for female athletes who overcome the stigmas of being society’s “weaker sex.” Nike’s lack of an official maternity policy becomes all the more blistering when you listen to the “Dream Crazier” spot proclaiming: “If we want to play against men, we’re nuts. And if we dream of equal opportunity, delusional. When we stand for something, we’re unhinged.”

So, as Montaño and other elite female athletes are rightfully asking, does the freedom to dream crazier stop with the desire to become a mother? Is the request for maternity leave “delusional?” Has Nike’s purpose-driven marketing dwarfed into a “do as I say, not as I do” strategy? Because you can’t really do that.

Well… Nike can, but you can’t

OK, reality check. Fact one: Nike is virtually untouchable. Fact two: If I’ve learned one thing through three pregnancies of my own, it’s that America – one of only two countries in the entire world without paid maternity leave – doesn’t really care all that much about maternity policies. So, chances are Nike will be jusssst fine despite the hypocrisy.

But it’s not so for your brand. If you’re considering purpose-driven marketing, you need to make sure your house is in order first. And BTW, the socially conscious Millennials and Gen Zers are taking over and 88 percent of today’s consumers report that they want brands to use their resources to spark social change, so you really should be considering it.

Purpose-driven marketing for brands that aren’t Nike

If you can’t afford product burnings, boycotts, Twitter storms and other such reputation nightmares, you’re going to need to approach purpose-driven marketing with more, well, purpose. Here are a few questions to ask before you get started:
Do we care about this cause? If your organization’s leaders don’t have a genuine investment in your chosen “purpose,” it will show. And fall very flat.
Does our target audience care? Try drawing a Venn diagram of your audience and your cause. If there’s not some emotional overlap, your efforts may be missed by the people you’re trying to capture.   

Can we make an impact? It’s awesome when brands use their platform to highlight social issues, but talking only goes so far. Is your brand making financial contributions toward your cause? Can you partner with a related nonprofit? Or, are you offering your time and talent in some way? What else can you do besides speak out?

Can we be consistent? Make sure your team is all in with your cause for the long haul. Is every public-facing person going to walk the walk? Can you weave your purpose through your marketing efforts in an organic way over time? There’s little that’s more off-putting than when a brand makes a huge splash about a cause and then follows up with radio silence.

Did you answer “no” to any of these questions? If so, your brand might not be the right one to start championing a cause. If you’re passionate about something, by all means, speak up and go be the change we need… but don’t associate your efforts with your brand unless you’re sure you can follow through. You’re not Nike, and watching people burn your products on social media live streams just sounds mildly depressing.

Does your brand have a cause that's close to your heart? We can help you build an engaging and intentional purpose-driven strategy. Get in touch!

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