Nike Runs Headfirst Into American Politics, Rewrites History, by Pulling ‘Racist’ Shoe — Critics React
Nike welcomed the nation’s birthday by rewriting history — and not selling a “Betsy Ross” flag shoe that Colin Kaepernick, who partners with the sports brand, deems the glorification of racism and slavery. It's a bold political stand by a brand. Critics’ reaction to the brand’s stand to not sell the shoe for the July Fourth holiday — or ever — was swift and often NSFW.
While brands taking a stand on societal issues is relatively new, the intense public comments surrounding the marketing show that Americans are perhaps more concerned with what marketers do than they are about government removal of Confederate statues and the like.
Adding to the discussion, Nike aired a commercial about women's rights after the U.S. Soccer Women's National Team earned the world championship on Sunday. The commercial specifically mentioned team star Megan Rapinoe, who's been in Twitter disputes with President Donald Trump.
Wading right into the political maelstrom, Nike first backed Kaepernick on Labor Day 2018 by retweeting the former NFL quarterback who led kneeling protests during the national anthem.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
By contrast a month later, the marketing thought leader Marc S. Pritchard — chief brand officer at Procter & Gamble — said brands needed to take a stand on societal issues. He made clear that he wasn’t speaking about politics. But he did say that brands were leading the public dialogue, going forward, and needed to consciously take on that role.
According to a July 3 Associated Press article published by PBS, had there been inaction by Nike, it may ave communicated a political message, too:
"Nike pulled the Air Max 1 USA shoe, which included a Revolutionary-era U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle on the heel. Kaepernick reached out to Nike after learning they planned to release the sneaker to explain that the flag recalls an era when black people were enslaved and that it has been appropriated by white nationalist groups, a person familiar with the conversation told The Associated Press."
So, while many brands are taking stands on societal issues, what Nike did for Independence Day is running headlong into rewriting American history. And on a day when Trump held a military parade, taking a brand stand on American history is absolutely political. So will brands now need to take on political issues, as well as societal ones? Or be left in the dust by Nike?
— CNBC's Closing Bell (@CNBCClosingBell) July 2, 2019
But on July Fourth, The Washington Examiner reported that a politician threatened to pull financial incentives for those Arizona plans, as a result of Nike's choice about the flag shoes:
The company's decision brought blowback from politicians and commentators of all political stripes. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey pulled financial incentives for Nike's planned factory in the state in response.
"It is a shameful retreat for the company. American businesses should be proud of our country’s history, not abandoning it," Ducey tweeted [on July 2]. "Nike has made its decision, and now we’re making ours. I’ve ordered the Arizona Commerce Authority to withdraw all financial incentive dollars under their discretion that the State was providing for the company to locate here."
For those who boycotted Nike beginning with Labor Day, their predictions about the demise of the brand were unfounded in Fiscal Year 2019. According to Nike's earnings report, revenues "rose 7 percent to $39.1 billion, up 11%."
Meanwhile, on the Internet ...
Neither Nike or Kaepernick tweeted specifically about the Air Max 1, which The Wall Street Journal was first to report on July 1 that Nike would not sell as planned during the holiday week.
Instead, Kaepernick's tweet took on the issues he cited with the shoe:
“What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? This Fourth of July is yours, not mine…There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of these United States at this very hour.”
- Frederick Douglass pic.twitter.com/IWLujGCJHn
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) July 4, 2019
Nike didn't tweet about the shoe and didn't have it for sale on its site on Friday.
In Philadelphia, the Betsy Ross House kept tweeting about museum activities. (Most public replies to the account were about the museum's activities or were anti-Nike.)
Shhh... we’ve got an Independence Day secret for you! Find out what led Betsy to commit treason against British troops and ask her your burning rebellious questions during Rebel Thursdays at the Betsy House House! TONIGHT from 6-8 p.m.! #betsyross #littlerebel pic.twitter.com/3BIr53SXj9
— Betsy Ross House (@BetsyRossHouse) July 4, 2019
CBS News reports of the Tennessee Smokies, a Chicago Cubs minor league affiliate team:
The Double-A Tennessee Smokies drew the 13-star symbol of the Betsy Ross American Flag on their infield Wednesday and tweeted images of it, ostensibly making light of the former quarterback and Nike one day after the shoe company recalled a sneaker that featured an early American flag that Kaepernick found offensive. The "Betsy Ross flag" features 13 alternating red and white stripes and 13 stars to represent the original U.S. colonies.
"Hey @Kaepernick7 after a lot of thought, we have decided it's best to just do it. #America," the tweet said. The team then deleted the tweet and offered an apology on social media.
Regarding one of our recent tweets regarding @Kaepernick7 and our field design for tonight's game, it was meant to be a light-hearted take on a current situation. We did not mean to offend anyone by it. If it did, we certainly apologize.
— Tennessee Smokies (@smokiesbaseball) July 4, 2019
As for average citizens, those upset with Nike's decision created memes:
— Nunyadb (@bulldog441) July 4, 2019
Consumers agreeing with Nike were equally political:
Real Murica more upset that Betsy Ross Nikes got pulled than they are about the fact that racists and neo-nazis have co-opted the Betsy Ross flag.
We see you. pic.twitter.com/7BwPfWtRMN
— Wakandan War Dog (@Kennymack1971) July 5, 2019
What do you think, marketers?
Please respond in the comments section below.
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