Nike’s Kaepernick Ad Immediately Sparks Outrage, Adoration and Satire

Wieden + Kennedy elicits vocal praise, alongside boycott threats and burning sneakers

On Twitter, one critic of Nike burned a pair of sneakers in protest of the Kaepernick ad. Via @sclancy79 on Twitter
Headshot of David Griner

America in 2018 is a nation always simmering just at the point of boiling over, and it’s hard to predict which piece of news or commentary will be the next to send social media into a frothing frenzy.

This week, just as confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh were set to begin dominating the news cycle, Nike got the country’s political polarization fired up early with a Labor Day weekend reveal of a new Just Do It ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, who has become an icon of the athletes who kneel during the national anthem in protest of police violence against black Americans.

The ad prompted immediate responses from people on both ends of the debate around kneeling during the anthem, along with an outpouring of support for Nike and agency Wieden + Kennedy from peers in the advertising community.

Here’s a quick recap of how the reactions have broken down.

First, as a refresher, here’s the Kaepernick ad, one of several that debuted Monday featuring athletes across several sports:

Backlash and boycott threats

While boycott threats are somewhat common (though rarely lasting) when brands tread into political issues, Nike’s Kaepernick ad seemed to get emotions even higher, with a few critics opting to burn or otherwise destroy their Nike products.

Some of those who dislike Kaepernick said the brand should have featured NFL player Pat Tillman, who enlisted in the Army after the 9/11 terror attacks and died in a 2002 “friendly fire” incident in Afghanistan. Others pointed to Kaepernick’s support from Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Vocal support for the brand

While Nike’s Kaepernick ad clearly had its detractors, Twitter was also flooded with vocal support for the piece. Advocates for racial justice and critics of the NFL’s increasingly strict stance on player protests were effusive in their praise for Nike making a bold choice that it knew would put the brand directly in the crosshairs of many conservative pundits and politicians.

Mocking the outrage

Perhaps because it dropped on a three-day weekend when people had plenty of time on their hands, the Nike ad also sparked quite a few clever satirical social media posts making fun of those who would burn, trash or otherwise deface their Nike products.

Praise from peers in advertising

Both in America and beyond, Wieden + Kennedy’s work drew praise from creative leaders across the ad industry. Given that many of these same industry icons make up many award juries, that’s a good sign that you can expect the campaign to do well on the awards circuit well into 2018.

@griner David Griner is creative and innovation editor at Adweek and host of Adweek's podcast, "Yeah, That's Probably an Ad."