To commemorate the 30th anniversary of its iconic “Just Do It” slogan in early September, Nike released a new Dream Crazy campaign. In the ad, Nike encourages viewers to “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” At first glance, the message to chase seemingly impossible dreams appears harmlessly aligned with Nike’s brand persona. The Nike marketing campaign, however, features the divisive former NFL player, Colin Kaepernick, whose name became synonymous with controversy during the 2016 football season, when he spurred on the movement to kneel during the national anthem to protest racism. Some supported his message and method, while others found his actions disrespectful. By choosing Kaepernick as a spokesperson, Nike clearly aligned its brand with Kaepernick’s values and message of equality, and a profusion of consumer and media responses immediately followed the ad’s release.
In the first 24 hours, more than 100,000 posts with #BoycottNike flooded Twitter. In spite of the negative attention, in the same time period following the ad’s release, experts estimated Nike received $43 million in free media exposure, most of which was considered neutral to positive in tone. Also, in spite of an initial dip in Nike stock, after about two weeks, the company’s online sales had surged by 31%.
So, how is it that value-based ad campaigns, much like this recent Nike marketing campaign, which one might expect to isolate large swathes of consumers with controversy, can actually generate positive consumer reactions and healthy media attention?
The Value of Brand Values in Marketing: What the Statistics Reveal
Brands taking stands on social, political and/or moral issues is no longer a fad, but has become a movement in marketing and a consumer expectation. According to Shelton Group’s 2018 survey Brands & Stands: Social Purpose Is the New Black, 86% of consumers think businesses should align their brands with social issues. Also, this year’s Edelman Earned Brand study found that 64% of consumers worldwide make purchase decisions based on their beliefs and the beliefs of the brands they support. These consumers, called belief-driven buyers, are the majority in every market group. They select, change, avoid and boycott brands solely based on their stances.
Modern consumers (belief-driven buyers) strive to live their best lives with every decision that they make, including purchase decisions. This means if they have a choice between two chocolate chip cookies, they will choose the one branded with values that represent their own. The same goes for sneakers, dog leashes, personal products and everything else we buy with money.
How Others Have Illuminated Company Values in Marketing
In spite of the numbers, some might still say that Nike took too big of a risk with their recent campaign, and just because your brand takes a stand, it doesn’t have to choose an equally controversial issue. Take TOMS for example. Almost everyone is familiar with the brand’s one-for-one business model, which pledges that for every pair of shoes purchased, they will donate a pair to a child in need. In addition to giving consumers two reasons (new shoes for your feet and new shoes for someone else’s) to purchase their shoes, they also consistently encourage the discussion of global issues on their social media platforms. The company’s strategy drives both social awareness and brand awareness. By opening their brand up as a platform for discussion, TOMS spreads messages of positivity and inclusiveness – values with which most consumers agree.
Airbnb also enjoyed a successful campaign, which took a stand against President Trump’s 2017 travel ban with the slogan and hashtag “we accept.” Although the travel ban divided the nation, outraging some and pacifying others, this campaign naturally aligned with a key portion of Airbnb’s business model: to encourage individuals to welcome other individuals into their homes. This natural alignment along with the positive message that “no matter who you are, where you’re from, who you love, or who you worship, you deserve to belong,” prevented the campaign from isolating consumers and positioned the brand with a very positive belief.
How to Use Value-Based Marketing in Your Business: Three Tips to Align – Not Hurt – Your Brand
1. Assess the Level of Controversy
Highly controversial topics can be volatile. They have the potential to rocket your brand to the forefront of the conversation, but these topics also have the potential to anger and isolate consumers. Consider your brand’s persona, mission and primary market group before deciding what stand to take or whether you should take a stand on the subject at all.
2. Determine Whether the Topic Is Relevant to Your Brand
If TOMS had decided to donate a book to a needy child for every pair of shoes sold or if Airbnb had run a campaign to save the whooping crane, it would have been equally benevolent, but not nearly as relevant. When choosing a cause, value or political belief to pair with your brand, look for a cause that also highlights your mission or product. When your brand takes a logical stand, your market group will likely have similar values.
3. Position Yourself Strategically with Solid Communication
Nike didn’t come out with an ad that said, “Just do it. Kneel during the national anthem.” Instead they took advantage of the topic’s controversial energy and shifted the conversation to the subject matter of taking risks and following dreams. Even though they chose to spread the message using a controversial public figure, they centered the topic of their ad around a very positive message.
With smart communication and careful use of imagery, your brand, like Nike, TOMS and Airbnb, can also leverage the energy of an existing conversation while mitigating the potential negativity associated with it. By taking a stand, you give consumers a reason to choose and trust your brand. You allow consumers to feel good about selecting you and you set your brand apart from all the competition. When your brand takes a stand, you can believe in something, without risking everything.
Jennifer G is a full-time freelance writer and editor with a B.A. in creative writing from the University of Montana. She enjoys researching and writing creative content to engage readers and developing professional voices for clients across all industries. She specializes in medical, health, veterinary, and financial writing. Having worked nearly thirteen years in finance, Jennifer applies her experience in the banking industry (marketing, social media management, consumer and commercial lending, customer service, accounts, and bookkeeping) to her writing work within the industry.