For the past few weeks, an advertising campaign has facilitated a nationwide stir the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time. By now, you’ve most likely seen at least one of Nike’s advertisements featuring Colin Kaepernick, imploring viewers to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” You’ve also probably seen many Americans praising Nike/Kaepernick, many others burning or otherwise destroying their Nike products in anger, and — the surest signs of something going viral — many memes. (As Chicagoans, we’re partial to this one.)
NIke has created a buzz with its campaign, and that buzz has led to financial results. Sales went up 31% after the campaign launch, and after an initial drop, Nike shares have already recouped their losses and look poised for more growth.
Since it got people talking and the company is making money, this is on its face a very successful ad campaign. But when you look closer at their approach, it looks a lot more like PR than advertising.
What exactly is Nike advertising in this campaign? It is advertising its point of view on a controversial topic. It is not talking about a Nike product — its shoes, its apparel, its gear. It is not talking about how Nike products will help you run faster or add an extra inch to your vertical. Nike is taking a stand on an issue.
Establishing a point of view is the essence of PR — at least of good, non-reactive PR. That’s what we do every day, helping clients define who they are and why they do what they do, and then helping to get that message out. Generally speaking, whereas advertising has traditionally focused on products, PR has amplified values and points of view. Nike’s Kaepernick campaign clearly leans toward the latter.
This is not the first time that an advertising campaign has been built on PR foundations, but it feels like a tipping point — if Nike continues to see financial success from this campaign, we’ll likely be seeing more of this PR-style advertising in the future. Regardless of the actual message, as a PR firm, we appreciate seeing advertisers come around to the idea that, in today’s market, principles and values drive business outcomes. In that way, Nike’s ad is effectively an advertisement for PR itself — the most important thing is to stand for something, which is what PR has believed in since day one.