Tell me why you do it and I’ll tell you who you are – Nike’s brand purpose and the divisions that unite us

Advertising, Branding

Last week we left with a consideration on the ability of consumers to analyze and judge their purchasing choices, with rationality becoming a second thought when they have to choose which brands to rely on.

With Lidl’s experiment and its clothing line we got a taste of the illogical logic that guides our desires and makes us perform certain actions. Today we want to focus again on the emotional sphere and the levers available to brands to seduce us, call us to action, make us adhere to their values. And, coincidentally, we’re still talking about sneakers.

To do this we start from an image: it is 2018 when on Twitter begin to appear the first posts of indignant people calling for a boycott of Nike. The mood was so hot that the most exasperated ones came to sever the brand’s logo from their clothes and someone even thought of starting a fire with all their purchases of the now ex lovebrand (you know what a lovebrand is, right? To delve into its definition this book can not miss in your library). It even went so far as to President Trump himself, who declared that the company would be “destroyed by anger and boycott.”

What triggered this reaction? All this havoc had been generated by the Oregon brand’s latest commercial. Of course it was not just any advertising campaign, but one of the most beautiful manifesto films of recent years: Let’s talk about Dream Crazier.

The video is an anthem to passion, dedication, but above all to sacrifice – it uses as often happens sport as a metaphor of life but this time the tones are higher – it’s not just talking about training and exceeding our limits, it’s talking about principles.

It is a video starring Colin Kaepernick, an African-American athlete who has become famous for his way of protesting and participating in the Black Lives Matter movement. When the national anthem played in NFL stadiums before games, Kaepernick didn’t stand up as required. He listened to it on his knees, because he “did not want to honor a country where the black minority was still oppressed.

It was a protest that began in solitary, against the system, which had made a part of America cry out for scandal, disrespect for the flag, to paint the San Francisco 49ers quarterback as an ungrateful, even as a traitor to the homeland. The same gesture, however, had struck the mark and had moved many people, who had elected him as a symbol of the revolt, as a progressive hero.

In short, the gesture was strong, definitive, and clearly divisive. It was a gesture contrary to the rules and as such sanctioned. Kaepernick’s contract was terminated and no NFL team came forward to sign him. In the meantime, however, a gesture born in the world of sport had become a political gesture.

The Nike commercial ends with a phrase that is also a statement of intent: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything”. A phrase whose meaning is even stronger because to pronounce it is that Kaepernick who sacrificed his career to actively fight the distortions of American society.

The claim of the commercial is embodied in an athlete that Nike chooses as a testimonial, completing the circle of the representation of Nike’s purpose.

But what is the brand purpose? To put it simply it’s why a brand exists, regardless of the product it makes or the service it offers. It is, literally, the purpose that it pursues at the highest level, is the realization of its value system.

The concept of purpose has become famous since Simon Sinek’s famous Ted Talk to present his book Start with Why (another fundamental reading to understand the world of contemporary communication).

Choosing to materialize its worldview with the face of this divisive athlete igniting the spirits, highlighting the wounds of society instead of trying to water them down for quiet living (and to sell to both sides their sneakers) Nike has decided to take a stand on a hot topic such as social justice. It decided to fight for a minority and against the majority of the consensus, even against presidential politics. It accepted the boycott, the stock market crash, the cut-off logos and bonfires of its products because it felt the need to accompany its vision to concrete action.

Nike knows, to put it with Sinek, that people don’t buy what you do, but why you do it. It knows that brands that take a stand, able to act in practice and fight to improve the community in which they operate even at the cost of displeasing someone become incredibly attractive to consumers, especially for younger generations (Millenials and Generation Z).

And when a brand is loved emotionally and not just because it meets quality/price needs, the consumer is willing to spend more, they are unlikely to cheat on it with other brands and it is likely to recommend it to their social circle, becoming ambassadors.

There are only two ways to influence human behavior: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.

Simon Sinek

This is the key phrase to understand why the purpose brand and the divisive communication of brands like Nike “lift up” our spirit. Because the days when brands had to just influence the purchasing process by presenting a moped reality with an ecumenical and accommodating tone of voice are far away.

We live in interesting times full of possibilities: brands can only be at the forefront of observing what is happening in society, acting, taking a stand and being able to create change if necessary by being hated. Because the alternative is irrelevance, which is the scariest thing of all, because it is the antechamber of oblivion.

And Nike, kneeling first with Kaepernick in 2018, can say after two years that it has once again been avant-garde in society, today that the whole world kneels in solidarity with the Black community and that the Black Lives Matter sign giants on Washington’s main street and in front of the Trump Tower.