Nike and what responsible brands mean for your business

responsible brands

Over the past few weeks, Nike hit the headlines with its latest marketing campaign. In the (almost impossible) case you missed it, the sport apparel giant chose to celebrate the 30 years of its iconic ‘Just do it’ tagline by featuring the American football star Colin Kaepernick. Nike’s latest campaign features Kaepernick together with the message “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” as a clear reference to the feud with the National Football League that followed Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the US national anthem in protest of police brutality and racism. Since then, Kaepernick has not played in the National Football League.

Not surprisingly, the campaign has attracted a lot of controversy, splitting the public between those who praise Nike for its courage and those who criticise the company’s political stand.  Many even went to the extent of setting their own Nike garments on fire (as an aside, check out Nike’s response for a little laugh).

While we can agree or disagree with Nike’s message, there is something that is undeniable: brands can no longer sit on the side-line as simple observers of what is happening in our societies.

Many people criticise Millennials for what makes them different from prior generations, and some of the criticisms might well be true. But there is certainly something that Millennials bring to the table:  their passion for social causes. They might be not the first ones, but Millennials now have outlets that are way more powerful than any previous generation to get their voices heard.

Even the almighty NRA had to take notice when students like Emma Gonzales started their battle for gun control.

So, what does this mean for businesses?

Time has come for businesses to find a soul and become socially responsible. The public demands it.

A Nielson research indicated that, globally, 66% of consumers are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand. Not only that, but according to a Cone Communications Millennial CSR Study: “More than 9-in-10 Millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause.

Time has come to move from what was before called Corporate Social Responsibility, and was usually relegated to an HR project or a Marketing campaign, to what is now called Social Responsibility. The difference? As Social Business Earth explains: Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are the philanthropic programs of companies. CSR is part of a corporation, which is a profit-maximizing company. A social business is a company by itself which is dedicated to social impact-maximisation.

Quite a huge difference.

But businesses also need to pay attention to how they embrace and communicate their socially responsible stand. Mistaking ‘social responsibility’ with a ‘Marketing stunt’ is a strategic error that can come at a high cost. Anyone remember Pepsi 2017? After having to pull their advert featuring Kendall Jenner due to the huge backlash, the soft-drink company released the following statement: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly, we missed the mark, and we apologise.”


And Pepsi is not alone. Here is an interesting article about companies who successfully took a stand and those who were definitely less successful…

What is the impact on your business?

If you have read this far you will have now understood the importance of becoming a responsible brand and to communicate it in the right way.

How can you achieve this? Should all companies embrace a cause, any cause, and build a marketing campaign around it?

Not so fast.

As a brand, your business carries the opportunity to make a positive stand in the world. Look inside-out, reach out to your brand values. What does your company stand for? What makes you different from all the other companies that offer the same product/service? Now, if you truly believe in it, and something is happening around you, small or big, that would make your beliefs come true, then you know what to do. Support that cause. Genuinely invest in it. And of course, there is no harm in letting the world know as long as you are genuine and honest.

For instance, at KnowThyBrand, we believe in start-ups and small businesses and what they can do to change the future of the world. That’s why we are happy to offer very competitive prices for those companies that wouldn’t otherwise be able to get professional branding and marketing support.

We also believe in striving for a more sustainable world.

So when we were approached by a group of students last year, determined to change the world by promoting the use of hemp as a sustainable substitution to many not-sustainable products, it was a no-brainer: we decided to help them launch their brand, Amberstalk, pro-bono. For one year we worked with them on their brand strategy and we are very proud of what they achieved so far!

This doesn’t mean that once they start making a profit we won’t change for the terms of our collaboration, or that we do not work with big and established brands. What it means is that we make sure that we use our expertise to help smaller and younger clients, and those that align with our business values.

Take away

Some degree of risk-taking is part of any business success story. Standing up for what you believe in can be a gamble. Having a conscience as a business is outstanding. You need to find out what your values are, what your contribution to a better society can be, and act upon it. Then, and only then, can you promote it.

Giulia is a brand strategist and digital marketing consultant with over 15 years of experience. Founder of her own business, KnowThyBrand, Giulia helps her clients position their brand as the cornerstone of their company, and guides them in creating professional and compelling digital marketing campaigns.

Need help building a strong and successful brand? We can help you.

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