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What boycott? Nike sales are up 31 percent since the Kaepernick campaign

A recent poll found a 10 percent increase in the number of Nike customers versus the general public who say a company should take a stand on social issues.
by Martha C. White /
Image: A Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick is on display on top of a Modell's store in New York
A Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick is on display on top of a Modell's store in New York on Sept. 8, 2018.Angela Weiss / AFP - Getty Images

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President Donald Trump has made his name from sales of everything from suits to steak, but this is his first time selling sneakers — even though that probably wasn’t his intention.

Nike sales jumped by 31 percent after debuting quarterback-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick as a new company spokesman — and market observers say the president’s public displays of anger may have backfired by drawing more attention to Nike.

“Controversial endorsements tend to generate a lot of hype,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for retail at The NPD Group, a market research firm. “These kinds of statements and brand partnerships make for a big impact on brand selling.”

According to data from Edison Trends, online sales of Nike products jumped 31 percent between the Sunday before and the Tuesday after Labor Day, nearly double last year’s 17 percent increase over the same time period. Kaepernick is part of Nike’s 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” tagline. A TV ad narrated by Kaepernick debuted Thursday on the opening night of the regular NFL season.

“Nike is a company that is focused on younger generations and expanding their market. This ad did that for them,” said Hetal Pandya, co-founder of Edison Trends.

But if Trump is no stranger to controversy, neither is Nike. The company’s decision to use Kaepernick, who is currently claiming the league colluded against his employment in a lawsuit, isn’t the first time the athletic apparel company has used its brand platform to advocate for a cause or push for social change. Previous ad campaigns have taken on AIDS, gender inequality, disabilities, religion, and other cultural flashpoints.

“The brand has a rich history of positioning itself as a progressive company that connects with its customers through conflict constructive conflict,” Pandya told NBC News.

Experts say that by continuing to insert himself into the ongoing debate regarding NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, Trump may have inadvertently helped out Nike by criticizing the brand on Twitter.

“Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts,” Trump wrote last week, and video clips of people destroying Nike products quickly went viral. But contrary to Trump’s assertion, while calls for a boycott across social media dragged down the company’s stock immediately after the news broke, share prices have since recovered.

Market research shows that 46 percent of Nike customers have a positive view of Kaepernick, compared to 34 percent of all Americans.

Drafting Kaepernick as a spokesman has more upside than downside risk for Nike, analysts say, because the company knows its customer base well. Market research from YouGov Plan and Track shows that 46 percent of Nike customers have a positive view of Kaepernick, compared to 34 percent of all Americans. YouGov also found a 10 percentage point increase in the number of Nike customers versus the general public who say a company should take a stand on social issues and have a “moral message.”

“The company understands societal trends and its customer demographics better than most,” Edison Trends’ Pandya said. “It’s a calculated risk, but one that our data shows has had a positive impact so far in terms of online sales.”

“In this case, controversy is a good thing to their target market,” NPD’s Cohen said. “Consumers who are most likely to shop online, and shop athletic apparel and footwear, are very much in tune with the movement and the willingness for a mega-brand to stand up against the establishment.”

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