There was a time in consumer history when a company could just tell you to buy something because it's the best, the warmest, the coolest, the most comfortable, etc. It didn't matter what the politics were behind the owner, the board, the employees, or even the consumers. It was just about getting that tangible item. But in today's economy, things have changed.
According to a study by Edelman, younger customers are more likely to expect brands that they want to purchase from to stay updated on current events and tend to side with them on social justice issues. In other words, they're "belief-driven buyers."
So I'm not particularly surprised that Nike is getting so much neutral or positive coverage for hiring free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick as one of the new faces for the "Just Do It" campaign. (Nike's demographic is two-thirds under the age of 35, according to The NPD Group, Inc., via Bloomberg.)
Does time heal all consumers' wounds?
Controversy puts eyes on the product. And sometimes it sells. However, Nike is not the first nor will it be the last sports apparel company to ruffle feathers. Just check out Adidas and Puma's connection to Nazis and the peculiar decision to want African-American Olympic champion Jesse Owens to wear Adidas shoes in Germany, of all places. But how many of you knew the Nazi connection before you bought your last Adidas shirt or pair of pants?
Or was Adidas just another brand to you until they took notice of "Make America Great Again"-hat wearing Kanye West while requiring Kaepernick be signed to an NFL team in order to work with him? Is that old news already or are we still tight about that?
Time heals all wounds, but is that the case with today's consumers? Or, are we gaining elephant memories when it comes to opening our purses and wallets? (By elephant, I mean the ones with large, floppy ears instead of the revolving door crew in Trump's White House.) While the donkey politics in me paced and forth and ranted to anyone who would listen about Adidas' decision, conservative-leaning shoppers were suspiciously new rap fans. And the company wins either way: They're going to get customers from one end of the aisle or the other—most of the time.
When a company's controversy doesn't work out so well
Starbucks was a recent example that managed to make everybody mad at them, including coffee drinkers who couldn't have cared less about the black real estate agents who were racially profiled in April of this year; they just wanted their cup of Joe. Four-hour shutdown to talk about racial sensitivity? Ugh, that would mean they'd have to settle for normal-priced coffee, or gasp, breakroom coffee.
I see where Business Insider is coming from with the argument that Nike can succeed where Starbucks didn't. Because Kaepernick was in this commercial, it got people talking more often and longer about the company. And consumers aren't as loyal as they used to be. (Me included. Forbes confirms.) But we can be if the company does something that sets itself apart from others.
I have so many clothing, home decor, hair products and even auto accessory brands in my personal belongings that I couldn't possibly tell you which was my "favorite" brand. What I can tell you is that there are certain items I purchased because I liked the look of them and a few more because of the message behind the brand. (I bought an $8 basket from Target for my hair accessories, but 30 minutes later, I considered returning it just so I could buy a $30 basket from Whole Foods Market. These incredible baskets from ten by three, formerly Blessing Baskets, at the front of Whole Foods Market are buying women goats. The basket I bought isn't doing squat for anybody but holding brushes and combs. I can also spend less than $5 on quality hair oil products, but it's hard to turn down Shea Moisture's connection to women-led businesses and their stance on no animal testing.)
Generation X and millennial consumers care. But we'll also turn on you if we think something is fishy. At one point, I owned a lady's version of the Kaepernick jersey. But I got frustrated that he didn't vote in the 2016 presidential election and donated it to charity. (The logic in burning clothing and/or shoes escapes me. You already paid the company, and the agreed-upon percentage already went to the "star" in question. May as well let someone else wear it instead of destroying all the work that went into making the product.)
And while the election of 2016 spoiled my birthday week, I've mildly gotten over the fact that Kaepernick didn't vote. It's difficult to not respect a man who stands up against all odds, speaks out against police brutality, and has a free "Know Your Rights" campaign. There's about a 99.9 percent chance I will buy a few things from Nike just to thank them for supporting a trailblazer like Kaepernick. And here's hoping that other consumers become "belief-driven buyers" to support companies who are supporting your causes as well.