Of course, who a brand chooses is determined by what they represent. What it is that makes them, or their story, controversial and where is the alignment with the brand, if any? Depending which side of the political divide you stand on, Kaepernick is a figure of strength in his stand for racial equality and other rights, or a disrespectful anti-patriot. For some people, and many brands looking on, Nike wins kudos for even going near such a sensitive issue, irrespective of personal politics.
Done wrong, this is not only risky business, but potentially bad for business. How did Pepsi get it so wrong with their ‘protest’ ad last year? Featuring Kendall Jenner, one of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, ‘Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding’. But, by its own admission, it ‘missed the mark’ and was accused of misappropriating the Black Lives Matter campaign. The ad was pulled. The controversy on social media raged.
The idea that Pepsi could invoke world peace is in some ways, perhaps, comparable to Nike’s lofty ambition. But its campaign was a construct, placing a rich social media influencer in a fake protest setting. Being released on 4 April, the 49th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination, this created an association that was highly insulting to some audiences. And as the concept was developed by Pepsi’s in-house creative studio, the ad reflected badly on the culture of the business for being out-of-touch and inauthentic.