Analysis: The "Kaepernick Impact" On the Nike Brand
Chase Koeneke | Associate Creative Director

While the broader news cycle in recent months has been dominated by political machinations, several events have broken through the broader information landscape – arguably none more so than the recent announcement by Nike that controversial former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick would serve as the face of the 30-year-anniversary of Nike’s legendary “Just Do It” campaign.

To better understand the the “Kaepernick Impact” on the Nike brand, the Elasticity Brand Insights team leveraged our partnership with Netbase to delve into the swirling controversy in social media.


Prior to the announcement and release of the Kaepernick ad – which launched a maelstrom of conversation about both the brand and public figure – Nike averaged 137,014 mentions per day in social media over the course of the previous 12 months. However, in the four days following the announcement, Nike’s average brand mentions in social media increased by 1,197% to 1.8 million brand mentions per day.


Prior to Nike’s announcement of the Kaepernick ad, during the previous 12 months, Nike averaged a net positive sentiment of 26.7%, meaning that there were 26.7% more positive mentions than negative mentions regarding the Nike brand. However, in the four days following the announcement, the net sentiment is -4.7%, meaning that there are more negative mentions than positive mentions.


Since the announcement of the ad on Sept. 3, through Sept. 9, there have been 12.4 million brand-related Nike mentions translating into a staggering 133 billion potential media impressions. The overall brand conversations have been negative, with a net sentiment of -4.7%.

As of Sept. 9, the peak brand mentions occurred Tuesday, Sept. 4, garnering 3.8 million brand mentions, or 2,667% above the daily average over the previous 12 months. As of Sept. 9, the most popular posts (by total engagement) on the topic were:



In line with the present divisive political discourse in the U.S., the debut of the ad sparked a surge of conversation that have been largely split along political lines.

Prior to the ad (in the 12 months prior) authors of mentions of Nike were typically focused around “running,” “athletics,” “fashion” and “sports.”

However, the ad dramatically changed the brand narrative and sparked a political firestorm, with authors interested in athletics completely absent from the discussion. Rather, #TheResistance and #MAGA authors dominated the discussion and drove the sentiment in relatively predictable ways.

Demographics of those discussing Nike evolved as well.

The overall age of authors discussing the brand skewed older, with those between 55 – 64 having the most mentions following the ad reveal vs. ages 25 – 34 prior to the announcement.

In addition, while Nike is traditionally thought of as an American brand, it is a global juggernaut. In fact, a recent analyst noted that Nike expects 75% of its growth to come from outside of the U.S.  The conversations about the Kaepernick campaign are overwhelmingly focused on the U.S. market, where it should be noted that sales have declined for the past three quarters.


In evaluating the polarizing passions surrounding the Kaepernick ad, it’s important to examine the broader perspective relative to Nike’s historical engagement with consumers.

In short, Nike’s gamble on highlighting Kaepernick came down to a very simple quotient: Self-awareness.

Much like Apple, RedBull and other select brands, Nike has a remarkable track record of successfully understanding what its customers want before they they want it. This applies not only to Nike products, the brand’s demonstrated cultural understanding of its consumers.

And in examining the net negative response to the Kaepernick ad, the 54% negative social voice – particularly within the framework of the current political culture – is relatively low. Additionally, as noted prior, Nike expects more than half of its growth to come from international audiences and the Kaepernick controversy has been largely contained within the U.S.  Perhaps most defining, our analysis of the interests, activities and backgrounds of those most strongly engaged in the #BoycottNike movement are those who are least likely to be Nike’s consumers.

What does all of this suggest?

Our analysis and findings strongly suggest Nike was well aware of the risks and political firestorm the brand’s campaign would set off.  Nike successfully predicted the campaign would appeal to the next generation of consumers, building brand loyalty with a younger demographic in the U.S. market, while protecting its primary growth markets around the world that are largely disinterested in the Kaepernick narrative.

Early financial indications suggest that Nike’s gambit will pay dividends. While the company’s stock price has fallen since the announcement, it remains well above the past six month average price, and data from San Francisco-based Edison Trends suggest that Nike online sales jumped 31% following the announcement.

Looking under the cover, it would appear Nike’s gamble on Kaepernick was not a gamble at all. Simply a strategic effort by a brand that has long understood the tone, tenor and turf upon which it connects to its ever-evolving customer base.


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