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How Nike’s Advertising Just ‘Does’ It.

Nike surprised the country on Monday, Labor Day, when it announced that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be the face of their “Just Do It” campaign on its 30th anniversary.

Not only that, but the company revealed it had continued paying Kaepernick over the last year-plus since he last played in the NFL. After sparking conversation around racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem in August 2016, he was not signed as a free agent in the 2017 or 2018 offseasons (he currently has a collusion case against the NFL). Nike signed Kaepernick to an endorsement contract in 2011, and continued to keep him on the roster even after he was no longer appearing in spots.

Nike’s bold stance in favor of Kaepernick amid outcry from the right (led, in part, by President Trump) is a move that fits with the brand’s identity, and the issues that are most important to its primary consumers. The company makes athletic apparel, sure. But it’s a lifestyle brand, first and foremost. Nike is far more concerned with creating and forwarding ideals that connect to its market, and taking inspiration from those that have greater pursuits beyond just sports – as the Kaepernick Just Do It spot puts front-and-center.

The company’s approach is untraditional, as you probably know by now, avoiding the typical conventions of sports marketing at most turns in favor of viral advertising and word-of-mouth. It also helps that Nike already outfits the entire NFL and NBA, plus most of the top college sports programs and MLB in 2020. Being on TV that much already means you don’t necessarily “need” traditional advertising the way competitors might, as we dive into below.

Just make people feel

According to emotion measurement A.I. company Canvs, Nike has people coming out in droves to express emotions around the Kaepernick choice. In an age when getting attention and standing for something can be hard, Nike has done both.

Capturing the top emotional drivers from this past Sunday (Sept. 2) through Wednesday, Nike has won the week so far with its Monday announcement. Nike far out-paced drivers like Bobby Brown and Whitney Houston, Serena Williams and the LSU Tigers in terms of Emotional Reactions (ERs) — all of which had big TV moments to pace audience emotional responses.

Just premium TV advertising

According to iSpot.tv, the real-time TV ad measurement company with attention and conversion analytics from more than eight million smart TVs, Nike spent $38.6 million running TV in 2018 — a spend which generated 560 million TV device impressions. The brand ran 12 ads 723 times — a relatively low number for the spend level, suggesting a focus on premium TV inventory.

For contrast, Sketchers blankets TV with more than 50,000 ad airings on $88.4mm, whereas Nike’s 711 airings on $38.6mm is 25% of spend for the industry and under 5% of impressions. Unlike Adidas, which declared it was ditching TV in March of 2017 and then came back, Nike has always been a different kind of TV advertiser.

Nike’s spent the most money placing ads on NBC, CBS and NBC Sports, prioritizing programming like the 2018 Winter Olympics, the 2018 NCAA Basketball Tournament and College Basketball. Nike only ran one ad for its Jordan line, focusing on the WNBA.

The trends continued for Nike with the “Dream Crazy” spot over this past weekend. Airings were almost exclusively during primetime programming — college football and NFL broadcasts — and most importantly, it kept those viewers’ attention, too. From September 6 through September 9, the ad had a 96.46 attention score (percentage of an ad played across a TV device) across 16 airings.

Just branded content

In 2018, Nike ran 324 pieces of branded content across its namesake pages (the official Nike accounts, vs. Nike Football or Nike Skateboarding) with 128 partners, according to social video intelligence company Tubular Labs. Major partners included Kevin Hart, Bleacher Report, House of Highlights and soccer star Ronaldinho.

The flagship Nike brand (not including Nike Football, Nike Baseball, etc.) alone has 205 million views on social platforms — the bulk of which come from YouTube where the brand has 134 million views on its videos.

After releasing its “Dream Crazy” Just Do It spot on Wednesday, Nike had the most single-day video views for its channels over the last 90 days. That number is poised to keep growing across all platforms.

Just digital ads

According to Pathmatics, which measures digital advertising on all platforms, Nike has spent $14.8 million year to date on digital display advertising, using 6,194 creatives to drive 1.66 billion impressions. Social media made up the bulk of the spend with $8.4 mm going to social networks followed by desktop video ($2.9mm) and display ($2.6mm) respectively with the remainder going to mobile advertising.