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When Brands Make a Difference


These are challenging times. Our country has probably never been more politically polarized. And part of the reason for the division and derision is that our nation lacks political leadership that is willing to stand up and speak truth to power.


This is the kind of environment in which many brands and companies decide to sit on the sidelines too. Very few companies want to risk taking or making a stand on the day's subjects because there is no national consensus around very important issues.


So in this environment, it’s worth asking ourselves: What difference can a brand make?


Today we see an answer in the new Nike campaign that features Colin Kaepernick and speaks to an issue that has literally torn at the fabric of our country. As Kaepernick explained: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.”

When NFL players take a knee are they insulting patriotism and sacrifice? Or are they seeking to use their fame and notoriety to courageously shine a light on the suffering of those less fortunate who have been victims of police shootings?


Nike attempts to frame the NFL Player movement as the latter. In ads running around the country today, the brand runs type over a tight shot of Kaepernick’s face that says, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The reaction has been swift and in some cases very negative. The company’s stock fell nearly 3% this morning. On social media, pictures and video of Nike gear being set on fire could be seen everywhere. Tweeting #NikeBoycott, some people were saying they were going to cut the swoosh logo off their socks.


On the positive side, Serena Williams tweeted that the ads made her proud to be part of the Nike family. Dozens of other black and white athletes have joined a social media chorus praising Kaepernick and Nike’s willingness to step forward.

I, for one, believe that whatever opinion you have about this ad, we should all take some hope in the fact that powerful brands can stand up and take brave stands. I think there’s little doubt Nike expected this negative reaction, but the company still felt so strongly that the treatment of Kaepernick and his movement was contrary to the company’s core values. Nike had to stand up and speak out.


I hope there are more business and political leaders who will have the courage to stand up and speak out at a time when our country needs leadership. And courage.

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