This is not a political post. For as long as it takes you to read this post, I’d ask you to put aside whether you think Nike was right or wrong to feature Colin Kaepernick in it’s “Just do it” ad, and acknowledge that it was a high-risk move.
Author, Jonah Sachs calls this type of move “unsafe thinking.” Sachs cites other examples like CVS deciding to stop the sales of cigarettes. When CVS began to consider the decision, the unsafe question that they asked was whether they could make more money by not selling tobacco – compared to the $2 billion in tobacco sales they were making at the time. I’m not so sure that CVS was employing unsafe thinking though, as much as bowing to the pressures of a health care market, and a recognition of the hypocracy of selling billions of dollars worth of cigarettes while claiming a mission to deliver health to their community.
Nike, on the other hand, had to know that it would alienate a segment of its customer base. I wonder if they were surprised when people began to cut their swoosh of their socks, burn their shoes, and vow to never purchase from the brand again.
We have long advocated for aligning your company’s values with those of your consumers. But, what the Nike example shows is that your customers aren’t all aligned. So, you have to go a little deeper. Figure out which values are most important to the customers you want to keep. In Marketing to the Entitled Consumer we consider examples such as TOMS, Thrive Market, and Figs that pursue a buy-one-give-one model or how Danish pharma company, Nordisk supplies insulin at reduced prices in developing countries. These are values that are important to the company, but they are not particularly controversial.
Increasingly, however, we see the rise of activist commerce. Sleeping Giant, an anonymous watchdog organization, alerts brands when their advertising appears on extremist websites – with an inherent threat to boycott them if they don’t react. Consumers that want to take control can download buycott, whose barcode scanning app lets them vote with their wallet on all sorts of issues that might be individually important to them.
When it comes to aligning with consumers, companies that identify the causes their customers believe in and find creative ways to support those causes will create a way to differentiate themselves in the consumer’s mind. How controversial you want to be, is up to you. But, start by employing some unsafe thinking. And then, just do it.