The One Reason Nike’s Just Do It Campaign is Brilliant

There are a lot of pundits out there trying to explain Nike’s new campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick. The problem with most of them is that the optics are all wrong. They are looking at it in the context of politics. But that is not why Nike and their advertising agency, Wieden + Kennedy chose to feature the polemical NFL quarterback.

The reason is cultural leadership.

Nike has not exactly shied away from controversy in the past. They embraced bad boys like John McEnroe and Charles Barkley. They used Spike Lee in commercials to promote Air Jordans. And they are highly aware that athletes can be polarizing. They dropkicked Micheal Vick in less than a day of learning about his dogfighting ring.

Thanks to the folks at Nike’s agency of record, the shoe brand has learned over the years that it pays to be part of the cultural conversation. It’s why they began embracing women as women in their communications and product design. It’s why they are leading in addressing working conditions in overseas manufacturing facilities. And why they are among the few large companies to formally address workplace discrimination issues.

Nike is an athlete’s brand. They have one of the most succinct mission statements in corporate history, “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.” And as one of their founders once said, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.”

Nike supports athletes. And it is no secret that a majority of athletes recognized Colin Kaepernick’s right to protest during the playing of the national anthem before NFL games.

Where do the majority of Nike’s customers reside? In large metropolitan areas— the same areas that are bright blue on the electoral map. So the ad featuring Kaepernick wasn’t very controversial with most of their customers. In fact, they likely did a few focus groups to test this idea. I doubt they were surprised apparel sales jumped 31% after the launch of the campaign.

The cynics will say that Nike is exploiting a controversial issue to sell shoes. But in an era of contentious opinions, where everyone has a platform to express those opinions, publicly deride and defame individuals for the slightest provocation, and declare a boycott on brands who do not meet their cultural standards, Nike showed leadership.

And it made them more relevant than ever.

‘Burstiness’ is the key to the most innovative teams

How do you get the best ideas out of a group? The key is a concept called Burstiness. It’s when your group creative brainstorm is bursting with ideas. Maybe people are talking over each other. It’d like a raucous family gathering. And it results in some of the best ideas in a short amount of time.

How do you get this in a team? There are a few keys to the creative play session.

  1. Psychological safety. There must be a sense of mutual respect. And that comes with feeling safe to express a really dumb idea for someone else to launch from. This safety should come from the leaders of the team.
  2. Welcome criticism. Despite the old concept that all ideas are good ideas, the welcome criticism concept allows for standards.
  3. Lowered inhibitions. Studies show that the teams with the best innovations have lower inhibitions. In the paper clip study, two teams competed for the best new ideas for the use of a paper clip. The teams with the most creative ideas, like an emergency suture and a new form of art, shared embarrassing stories with one another first.
  4. Task bubbles. The creative process has to move along like a well-oiled machine. Each stage of the creative process, from conception to the finished project must have clearly defined task bubbles, where team members are very clear about their role in the end result at any given time.
  5. The right mix of people. Diverse groups are more creative.
  6. Practicing together. Regular brainstorm practice helps to solidify the team.
  7. Think team first. Instead of looking for creative individuals, think of creative teams as the solution and hire creative teams as a unit. Or try to create a complete unit.

Many of these ideas come from the group psychologist Adam Grant, who has an excellent podcast called WorkLife. In this particular podcast Mr. Grant follows the Daily Show and discovered how they do it four times a week, every week. You can find it here along with another fine podcast on “The Problem with All-Stars.”

The Last Hot Lick

Jaime Leopold
1946 – 2018

Music Legend, Ad Man, and nascent Movie Star, Jamie Leopold has died. Together with Jerry Ketel, Terra Spencer, and Bob Macer he created Leopold Ketel & Partners. But Jaime had a legend behind him as a stand-up bass player for Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks. He was a raconteur of the Haight Ashbury in the late sixties, rubbing elbows with the likes of Alan Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy. He fled the scene in the late 70’s and came to Portland to become a respectable advertising executive and family man. After retirement, he returned to music and wrote enough songs to record two worthy CDs of what he called “American Quirk.” His final act was to become the star of a film loosely based on his later years as a singer-songwriter entitled, “The Last Hot Lick.”

He will be remembered for his charming personality and disarming sense of humor. And his ability to get you to tell him your innermost secrets.

We miss you, Jaime.

How to be Unignorable

We have a running joke at every agency brainstorm meeting. At the point it gets quiet, when everyone is deep in thought on how to solve a challenging marketing problem, I slap the table and say. “I’ve got it! We get a guy dressed up in a costume and have him wave a sign at motorists driving by.” It never fails to get an improvised response. And a few eye-rolls.

Most marketers understand how hard it is to “cut through the clutter.” It the old days, before the internet, we used to say the average person experiences over 500 “ads” a day. That would include the usual radio, television, billboard and print advertising. But it would also include logos and signs one encounters in a daily walk or drive. Today we would have to include the 147 average emails we receive each day and the average 32 hours a month we spend online (I’m sure you spend much more time than that).

A recent survey by Oracle found that folks are now “dual screening.” In other words, they are watching TV and checking their phone. They are doing work on their computer and texting their honey. They are Twittering and Facebooking at the same time. Essentially, we are multitasking both at work and at home and whenever we can.

Which means advertisers have about 30 seconds to command our attention.

Are you still reading this?

The obvious solution to this problem is to be as loud and crazy as possible. At least within the norms of social acceptance. But as we all know, when everyone shouts, no one is listening. We counsel a different approach that is simple in strategy and offers a return on investment. And it’s deceptively simple:

1. Change the conversation

2. Be authentic

3. Engage deeply

The trick, of course, is in doing it just right. But let us elucidate further.

Changing the conversation means to avoid the cliches the rest of your competitors use every day. This requires thinking differently. It also requires thinking like a leader. And you don’t have to be the market leader or the sales leader to be a thought leader. Don’t play the game, change the game—and you will win. Just as we did with the Oregon Humane Society.

When is comes to being authentic, we advise brands to do a little navel gazing, or at least allow us to do it for you. It requires a discipline of recovering your core values and making sure your mission and vision are relevant for internal and external audiences alike. Naturally, we assume that your product or service is worth promoting. Because if it isn’t, the best marketing partner in the world can’t help you. We did exactly that for Pendleton Whisky.

It’s easier now than ever to engage with audiences on a macro and micro level. At the same time. But our belief is that you need to think about how to engage with your customers emotionally. This requires the ability to communicate on a human to human level, to provoke a response and to evoke a sense of personality. How can you go the extra mile to treat your customers as human beings instead of an ATM machine? Can you get more personal? See how we did that for Umpqua Bank.

From here you can choose a host of tactics to implement this strategy. Social Media. Public Relations. Digital advertising. The list goes on and on. But if you follow this framework you will succeed in being unignorable for a very long time. And you won’t need a guy on the street in a costume with a sign pointing to your business.

Would you like some specific examples? Download our brochure, “Be Unignorable,” to see how we created excellent results for clients such as Umpqua Bank, Tillamook Cheese, Benchmade Knives, Omega Morgan and more.