Why the Nike Colin Kaepernick Ad Inspired our Card

If you are one of the hundreds of people receiving the Arkside end-of-the-year card, you may be wondering why -or even what- it is. I thought it best to take a moment to share the brainstorms and actions that went into our card. We take our end-of-the-year card very seriously. The discussions and designs include our entire team. How did we end up summarizing the whole of marketing in 2018 with inspiration from the now-famous Nike Colin Kaepernick ad?

First, it is important to recognize the controversy surrounding the ad, its talent, and our message. I will clear up a few things here:

  1. The Colin Kaepernick ad is arguably the most talked-about spot of the year. It prompted millions of difficult but important conversations – both in the marketing industry and the general public.
  2. Retail continues to experience seismic shifts and evolution impacting stores like Toys ‘R Us and brands like Nike.
  3. The message from Kaepernick and/or Nike are not our focus. Our card encapsulates the topics of the year. Our card does not cast votes, take sides, or play favorites.

The Controversy of Colin Kaepernick’s Actions

The image above is not the start of the controversy but it is the peak of discussion when it comes to marketing. The work comes from accomplished ad agency Wieden + Kennedy as part of Nike’s 30th anniversary celebration of their “Just Do It” tagline. (And congratulations to the W+K team on being named Adweek’s 2018 U.S. Agency of the Year.) The idea is fueled by Kaepernick’s kneeling protest during the national anthem before NFL games. It cost him a considerable amount of money and, ultimately, his job as an NFL quarterback. He receives love and hate daily for his choices. He is accused of dishonoring the United States military and citizens, while simultaneously receiving praise for using his amplified voice for the cause of justice. His choice is nothing if not polarizing.

When Mr. Kaepernick first tweeted the image of the new Nike ad campaign, it instantly went viral. The news media grabbed on with both hands. Much like his protest, the controversy and conversation were multi-layered. Does Nike want to dishonor America too? Does Kaepernick’s hate now have corporate support? Why would Nike do something so incredibly politically incorrect?

Know Your Audience

Again, I’m not here to discuss the controversy in a vacuum. My aim as a marketer is to look at the scenario from a variety of angles and analyze the successes or failures of the marketing effort.

Nike knows its audience. The Colin Kaepernick ad campaign exists to connect with that audience in a moving, personal way. I have spoken to companies for years about the need to be “human”. Audiences want to work with real people who are relatable. Corporate thoughts and prayers, routine answers to unique problems, and hiding behind policies doesn’t sit well with today’s consumer.

Where other brands may be about status, Nike is about empowerment. Nike encourages customers to be the best runner or ball player or neighborhood walker in the history of whatever-the-customer-is-doing. They want you to think big. That requires big ideas and big risks. Kaepernick took a big risk.

Risks can bring rewards. Let’s go back to my second bullet point above. Every tier of retail is struggling to adapt, evolve, survive, and thrive. Nike is no exception. They’ve had good quarters and bad quarters. But they continue to survive -and in some cases thrive- by knowing their audience. It is this knowledge that informs their marketing decisions. They know their target market is not a conservative Caucasian baby boomer.  Their ardent fans tend to be young men of color. Their growth opportunities are in markets around the world while the US market stagnates. Alignment with a young man of color who speaks to a global audience about social justice is natural.

Colin and Connections

Nike was faced with a decision. Do they risk intensely negative PR from half the country -including the President of the United States and his son– to speak with a clear voice to their audience?


Nike was almost immediately hammered with boycotts, media attacks, and a drop in their stock price. But the protest and the stock drop were temporary. Soon, it was estimated that their sales were up 31%. The stock climbed to a 52-week high within days. (It is now back to where it was at the end of June 2018.) And CEO Mark Parker said the campaign generated “record engagement with the brand”. They took a risk and reaped the rewards.

Inspiring the Arkside 2018 Card

So after all of that controversy, how did Nike inspire our end-of-the-year card? Quite simply: it didn’t. At least not at first. As our team gathered and listed some major events of the year -the #MeToo movement, Russian interference, cannabis, bankruptcies, celebrities, etc.- a theme slowly became clear: massive change.

Legendary businesses like Remington, Sears, and Toys ‘R Us collapsed. Weight Watchers (now WW), Dunkin’ Donuts (now Dunkin’), and even Kanye West (temporarily Ye) shortened their names. So did Arkside Marketing (now Arkside).

We couldn’t ignore the Nike controversy, but we didn’t see how it fit. Ultimately, one member of the team realized that the brands under discussion did what they believed in and the results were a sacrifice of everything. They certainly didn’t intend bankruptcy, but their lack of evolution brought about the final change: end.

The design of our cover was difficult. As you may imagine, there are not many photos of Geoffrey the Giraffe in the same position as Colin Kaepernick in the Nike ad. Furthermore, at that angle in black and white, it was hard to distinguish Geoffrey from a horse or just a creepy, big-eyed stuffed animal. That forced some variations from the original Kaepernick ad but the quote, black background, and overall layout remained.

About Marketing, Always

Our 2018 card is like those that came before it: about the year we experienced alongside you and the world of marketing. It is not about taking sides. It is not about support or attack. It is a reminder of what has happened. It is about the message. Interpretation is personal.

I hope you had an amazing, educational, and successful 2018. I hope 2019 brings you new opportunities along with good health. Thank you for taking time to read this. If nothing else, I’m proud that we took a risk to make a card unlike any other you may see.

Looking forward,

Nathan Greenberg, CEO