Nike knows the future looks something like Colin Kaepernick

Source: The Washington Post | September 4, 2018 | By: Sally Jenkins

Kicks have always been political, and Nike has always sought to capture new generations with its use of intense color. This is a company that built itself on chroma-fluorescent blues and acetate volt greens. The Colin Kaepernick campaign falls in that category: It’s a transactional piece of advertising that seeks to hook into the vanguard yearnings and values of its buyers by using a surprising hue. If the campaign is important, it’s not as an act of corporate conscience, but rather as a reflection of coming American demographics, which Nike is always so good at identifying and signifying.

Burning shoes and flaming hashtags are not unwelcome at Nike. The viral images of swooshes on fire won’t bother the marketers who decided to use Kaepernick one bit. This is a company that has been losing ground to Vans and for the first time in a decade didn’t have the most popular shoe in America in 2017, surpassed by Adidas Superstar. What Nike always has been best at is staying ahead, and the risk of employing Kaepernick in a campaign is nothing compared with what it risks by falling behind. Here’s why:

Millennials, those Americans between the ages of 22 and 37, are projected to surpass baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation in 2019, and fully 44 percent of them are of some race other than white. For post-millennials, that number rises to 48 percent, and for post-post-millennials (American children under age 10), it grows to more than 50 percent.

These Americans are “very different than earlier generations” in a variety of ways, according to demographer William Frey, author of “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America.” They are more prone to interracial marrying, friendlier to immigration and often want their consumption to have a social component. If Nike is willing to offend its graying buyers in order to court these multiple generations with a racial justice campaign, “it’s a good bet that a lot of younger people will be attracted and go along with that,” Frey said.

Andrew McCaskill, senior vice president of global communications at Nielsen, puts these demographics in stark business terms. “If you don’t have a multicultural strategy, you don’t have a growth strategy,” he says.

Nike knows movements. Its shoes are in a way chronicles of seismic American shifts, sort of like Stetsons, stovepipes, fedoras and trucker caps. It has long been a hallmark of Nike’s collective genius to recognize that sneakers are significant artifacts. They mark our youths and our fads, chart our decades and our societal shifts from decorative to active and back again. There is a reason Prada and Gucci got into making sneakers and that Galliano put so many of them on the runway this spring. A 2016 curatorial museum exhibit titled, “Out of the Box, the Rise of Sneaker Culture,” was made up of 200 years of kicks, and every pair had meaning.

Fred Perry’s elegant white leather tennis slippers, so symbolic of grassy leisure. Jesse Owens’s Dassler cleats, designed by German brothers who later split and named their separate companies Puma and Adidas. Converse’s original Chuck Taylors, emblematic of the mill-town teams that would spawn professional basketball. The women’s Reeboks that went with unitards and leg warmers and bespoke a new female muscularity. The retro-canvas movement spawned by Kurt Cobain and skateboarders.

All of which is a reminder that Nike has been here before and knows the business of zeitgeist better than any shoe company in history. It faced a similar slowdown and loss of buzz once before, in 1984, when its running shoes fell out of favor during the aerobic revolution. How did it respond? By signing Michael Jordan, and creating the Air Jordan brand, and then pitching his shoes as an iconic piece of rebellion against uniform culture.

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