Colin Kaepernick: A Retrospective Look at Nike’s Most Successful Story


How It Started

When we look at giant brand companies all over the world there is one thing that is very common with all of them, the sense of unreachable. Whether that be how they produce their products or who is the person behind the curtain that controls this big corporation, in which they  operate millions of dollars every single day. Thus in the late 90’s and early 00’s Nike became the big bad boss of the world sportswear industry. With the power that controls even the stock market, and the fame created by Michael Jordan and the “Dream Team” who achieved the gold medal in 1992, Nike is one of the brand companies that has the spotlight bigger than some of Hollywood actors. Of course it only makes sense for them to receive the critics and scrutiny from consumers about how they conduct their business. This is very apparent when Nike received a global boycott during the 90s that stated numerous reports regarding Nike’s child labor factory in places like Cambodia and Pakistan. With reports that state minors are hired and being forced to work 7 days a week and 16 hours a day to fulfill Nike’s high demand of their sportswear products (Bonadio, 2019). 

Pairing that with anonymous leaked pictures that run rampant in printed media about the sweatshop factory that these minors are working on, and also reports that Nike violate the minimum wage and overtime contracts hour, is enough fuel to make a global boycott happen and even getting supporters from all people that are not familiar with the sports industry. The 30 years plus reputation that they created is almost gone in an instant because of these series of events. A once pristine company that is proudly made in the USA is now under investigation from the International Labor Organisation, because their malpractice production has a huge impact on their company’s reputations. According to Stanford University research, the sales of Nike’s product were dropping and they were portrayed as a villain that would exploit workers rights, wage, and health conditions to maximise as much profit as possible by the media. This condition is also taken advantage of by Nike’s competitors such as Reebok and Adidas with their company highlighting “transparency” towards their customers that will create a ripple effect on how modern business practices should be conducted. 


A Redemption Arc

After the countless backlash by the media, international organisations, and their own customers. Nike understands it better than everyone that as a brand, it’s not about what you think you are, rather it’s what they think you are. They understand that the ripple effect that was created by their malpractice and violation is making their customers feel shameful wearing Nike’s products. Thus creating a boycott that demands accountability from the brands that people trusted. For the next decade Nike is forced to change their company’s tactics and practices from every aspect. The first and most important one is their legality and sustainability of their supply chain around the world. It arrives at the point where Nike made a vow to overhaul their supply chain and invited many external auditors to root out underage workers and requires Nike’s factories to have strict health and safety regulations that meet United States standards. One of the most overlooked effects by the actions that Nike took, is perhaps the culture and industry standard that they created on how to take responsibility that is demanded by their customers. 

Nike creates an atmosphere that makes them feel “reachable” because the boycott, whether you like it or not, is successful. They make the standard of how giant companies around the world can be held accountable by regular customers. It changed the whole dynamic of a brand and their consumers in sports industry companies and perhaps companies in other industries too. Today the company has openness and transparency that would have been impossible if they didn’t take the right step to solve their boycott (Birch, 2012). The information on what Nike has changed is available on the fair labor association website. There are more than 50 articles and reports that mention Nike’s progress to adopt and associate themselves with sustainability practices, not only from human rights aspects, but also from environment and carbon footprint aspects. It is a great thing to see from a company that 20 years ago denied workers rights. While Nike is rebuilding their reputation and brand loyalty from the legal aspects during this period of time, their public relation team is also expanding the brand’s horizon towards their target audience, when the new decade arrives Nike’s shifted their brand identity towards inclusivity, creating campaigns that are targeted for women in sports. Signing Serena Williams to their plethora of athletes is a great PR movements making Nike’s ? sales revenue came from women’s products. The release of Nike pro Hijab is also a major factor to solidify on who they are and what they wanna be seen as a company and as a brand that is very clear. Nike is for everyone. 


Colin Kaepernick and Nike 

After recovering their decade long issues, Nike is again standing on top of the pyramids as an innovator, icon, and benchmark for other companies around the world. Being on top has its own problems as Nike faces another issue that creates controversies, especially in the United States. In 2018 after numerous cases of police brutality towards the black community, a San Francisco 49ers quarterback named Colin Kaepernick took a knee in a NFL match when the United States national anthem was playing. This action leads to many controversies surrounding his career as a professional football player. However, one company that overlooks any of that is Nike. In the midst of controversies surrounding Colin, Nike decided to create a campaign that stands with the victim of police brutalism and Colin Kaepernick that stands for injustice. 

This is one of their most well known efforts to reduce inequalities in the sports industry, it may seem that Nike are just blatantly doing whatever they want because they can. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Nike knew exactly what they are missing from their campaign to once and for all become a company that stands for something, a hero. When Nike saw the opportunity to recruit Kaepernick, it is a move that hasn’t been done before, most of the time brand skirts away when their celebrities have controversies. Not Nike, they know who their target audience is, and standing up side by side with Colin that acts as hero will prove that they are a different and a changed company from the old time. Even when it seems Nike took a huge risk by creating a campaign with Kaepernick, they know exactly the risk and objectives with this campaign. It was proven when people are burning Nike’s products on social media to show their disagreement, but then Nike’s stock value hits an all time high at $83.47 (Baer, 2018). This shows a little hint that in this period of time Nike has more than just a consumer base, they have a community. 

One thing that many companies adopt from this campaign, is controversy creates passion like nothing else. When brands are trying to be neutral and skirt off a problem that clearly exists in their consumer base or life in general, for example racism, climate change, and extreme poverty. A brand needs to stand with their people, the sense of “reach” that I mentioned earlier in the paper can be created when these giant corporations are showing their hands to help people. When Nike stood up with the African-American community to fight against police brutality, their audience realised that there are people willing to help them, making the community better, and actually listen. Because once Nike believed in something, their audience believed in that too.


“Believe in Something, Even if it Means Sacrificing Everything”

This quote by Colin Kaepernick is one of the most recognisable words in recent social media history. The words that were created when nobody believes in Colin, when even his own team doesn’t believe in him. For a person that is trying to do the right thing, he got scrutinised and was told to shut up and play. The waving of Colin Kaepernick from the NFL will always be remembered as a move that backfired on their organisation. Because in a short period of time, Kaepernick’s social media following increased dramatically since the announcement of partnership with Nike and the creation of this campaign. Generating over 6 million engagement and interactions from the commercial that was estimated to gain $7.6 Million dollars in media value for Nike. 

One thing that makes a major difference with this campaign is the global support that Nike and Kaepernick received, Although most of the stories, ads, posters and social media posts are from the US. The campaign quickly reached other parts of the world. In the UK mentions of Nike in social media have increased more than five times in the first week of the campaign. It received such a positive impact because Nike highlighted one thing more than anything else, MORE. More than an athlete, more than a young kid, more than a wife, Nike is pushing the agenda that regular people are capable of anything. With the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lebron James, Serena Williams, and Kaepernick that have unfortunate past with discrimination, Nike is standing by their side and their audience side to prove that it is okay to believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything, and kaepernick is a perfect example to become the forefront of this campaign. 

Nike blatantly wants to give a spotlight to athletes who are history-makers every day. In actuality, Nike is forced to simply take action. If athletes’ expectations are constrained to the present situation, how can they become great? If they are unable to use their position to improve the game, how can they encourage the following generation? You could argue that they could have completed their campaign with a less contentious identity, but that doesn’t fit the notion of taking “huge risks.” Additionally, from a marketing standpoint, taking a chance is much more exciting than playing it safe. It also reported that this campaign is making benefits for all Nike’s stakeholders, they have earned millions of dollars worth of engagement that expands the horizon of Nike markets and target audiences. They also made an impact with their clients and potential clients, as their athletes are adopting the company’s values, vision and mission. 


The Golden Standard

After years of innovation, dedication, and consistency of improvement and creating public relation campaigns. Nike became one of the golden standards of giant corporations in the world regarding sustainable actions, in a race against climate change Nike created a solution that is better for their athletes and the planet. Nike is scaling their sustainable innovations throughout all aspects of business from production to distribution, in hope to reduce Nike’s environmental impact. The standard rule of transparency is also created by the Nike movement that is adopted in almost every big company in the world currently. Nike created a trend where the reachable factor is a main factor that needs to be considered by any company, and social issues are something that they need to be taken a part of. 

In terms of environmental consideration, at current time recycled materials are present in 75% of all Nike, Jordan, and Converse goods. Since one of Nike’s major objective is to lessen their impact is to change the materials, which account for around 70% of our overall carbon footprint, Nike are aiming to enhance that figure. Another great example is the usage of recycled polyester, Recycled plastic bottles serve as the basis for this now-essential fabric. They undergo cleaning, shredding into flakes, pelletization, and spinning to create fresh, high-quality yarn that performs at its best while lowering carbon emissions by up to 30% in comparison to virgin polyester. At least 75% of the polyester used to create one of Nike’s most well-known product lines, the Tempo Short, is recycled. Most possibilities result in 100%. 112 million plastic bottles have been removed from landfills and waterways as a result of this one product to date. The rising story of Nike’s journey to the top of sustainability standards is truly inspiring, making it possible for anyone to have a chance for improvements. 











AMA New York. (2019, 3 12). Nike Controversy: Colin Kaepernick Marketing Strategy Analysis. AMA New York. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from

Baer, J. (2018, September 13). Nike stock rises in wake of Colin Kaepernick ‘Just Do It’ campaign. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved October 12, 2022, from

Baer, J. (2018, September 13). Nike stock rises in wake of Colin Kaepernick ‘Just Do It’ campaign. Yahoo! Sports. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from

Birch, S. (2012, July 6). How activism forced Nike to change its ethical game. The Guardian. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from

Bonadio, E. (2019, September 27). Sweatshops Almost Killed Nike in the 1990s, Now There are Modern Slavery Laws. The Fashion Law. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from

Fair Labor Association. (2008, 2 12). Nike. Fair Labor Association. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from

Grawe, S. (2021, January 27). How storytelling is at the heart of the Nike brand. Creative Review. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from

Kantar. (2018, 9 12). Examining the earned media impact of Nike’s new campaign. Kantar. Retrieved October 13, 2022, from

Kent, J. (2021, April 15). Just Do It: How Nike Does Public Relations. Medium. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from

Knauff, J. (2018, September 11). 3 Valuable PR Lessons You Can Learn From the Nike Controversy. Search Engine Journal. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from