Brand Stories: Colin Kaepernick

Brand Stories: Colin Kaepernick

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” – Nike

“If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.” – comedian Jon Stewart.

Today is Colin Kaepernick’s birthday and when it comes to values he has one of the best #brand stories I know of.

Here’s how I characterise the five brand attributes:

1) #Personality (I characterise a hat)
2) #Skills: (I characterise as the hands)
3) #Associations (the T-shirt)
4) #Vision (The eyes)

And, finally, 5) “#Values” which I characterise as ‘legs’ (values are what we stand for).

Kaepernick was an already a talented and celebrated player before he joined the San Francisco 49ers, in 2011.

But in 2016 he made the decision not to stand for the national anthem at the beginning of a game. Instead he stooped to one knee a raised a fist in protest against racial injustice, police brutality and oppression in the US. He continued to do so (and was joined by others) throughout the season.

His protest was highly divisive and reactions intensified including calls from President T**** for players to be sacked. Kaepernick was let go by the 49ers in 2017 and as of October 2022 remains unsigned by any professional football team.

Values and associations
As you’ve probably already gathered, brand values and brand associations are very closely linked.

I characterise “associations” as a t-shirt because when did anyone ever wear a t-shirt bearing an image they didn’t associate with? 

T-shirts are a symbol of creative expression, alignment and association.

In this case, the NFL no longer wanted to wear the Kaepernick t-shirt. The discussion he was raising was too hot to handle and so Kaepernick was a bad fit for the NFL brand. He was let go.

#Nike on the other hand…
Kaepernick was already endorsed by Nike but it was about to expire. The perfect way out for Nike? 
No. It got extended. 

Again, a highly divisive decision but Nike aligned with Kaepernick and stood by him throughout the controversy.

In September of 2018 Kaepernick became a face of Nike’s 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign. His ad was a tightly cropped black and white portrait with the strap line:

“Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

Kaepernick believed in something. The story was inspirational and aspirational. It was a bold and appealing statement for Nike.

Ultimately all three parties made a stand and all lost something as a consequence:

• The NFL lost Kaepernick.
• Kaerpernick lost his job.
• And Nike lost nearly 3% of stock value when the ad came out. 

If there are wins then it’s because people (employees, customers) associate and align themselves with beliefs, causes and values. It’s a powerful way to connect with them.

Nike “Kaepernick” billboard on the roof of Nike store off Union Square, San Francisco – 6 October 2018

So ask yourself what YOUR brand stands for and how do you communicate it with your community?

If you’d like to explore building your brand please get in touch.

(Happy Birthday #ColinKaepernick).

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