Just Cancel It: Nike Responds to Influencer Sentiment Around Shoes

Niraj Sharma |
 07/10/19 |
5 min read

Just Cancel It- Nike Responds to Influencer Sentiment Around ShoesHow fast can your brand pivot – and what criteria would you use to justify a costly product design decision? Nike’s ‘just do it’ slogan morphed Matrix-style into ‘just cancel it’ when presented with insight it hadn’t considered. Let’s explore the influencer sentiment that powered this decisive action, as it offers expertise that brands can either learn from or emulate.

Can You Hear What They Hear?

When customers talk, brands need to be listening – and ready to respond immediately, when necessary. Response time takes on even more urgency when the person talking has proven himself to be extremely influential with a brand’s consumers. For Nike, Colin Kaepernick is that person and influencer sentiment was the driving force behind Nike’s response.

Although sentiment is split about this former professional football star, Nike has definitively cast its lot to rise and fall along with him. They’ve been business partners since 2011, so it’s hardly a new deal, but recent years have come with controversy.

In 2018, Nike went all-in with its “believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything” campaign showing support for Kaepernick after he decided to kneel during the national anthem as a form of peaceful protest and was not offered an NFL contract renewal.

Colin Kaepernick Nike Commercial

So, Nike was ready to listen when its socially-aware influencer came to them with concerns around their latest sneaker design. Emblazoned with the Betsy Ross 13 Star flag, Kaepernick worried the flag could potentially send the wrong message as it may have been co-opted by White Nationalist fringe groups.

Betsy Ross – The Legend & The Love

Did Betsy Ross even make the United States’ first flag? It may surprise many to know that historical investigations have yet to bear this out as fact, but it’s an accepted bit of history nonetheless.

Sentiment around it shows lots of concerns about the flag being potentially offensive regardless:

Betsy Ross flag social sentiment

But the Nike/Kaepernick sentiment is super negative right now as well. Nike undoubtedly understands its influencer sentiment as well as the potential sentiment the flag offered. Additional crisis considerations are detailed further along in this post.

Nike and Kaepernick online sentiment

So does that mean a brand should follow the love/hate and make a deicion based on whichever wins out – or maybe look to appease the loudest voices online somehow? And what is it about Kaepernick that makes him a credible voice to the brand?

The answers aren’t easy to find, and require a bit of explanation as they’re also issue and brand-specific.

When Listening Escalates To Action

So how can a brand know when it’s time to act, particularly when faced with a controversial topic? Nike focused on influencer sentiment. You need to have a plan in place to evaluate the crisis and your response to it, so you can understand if it’s effectively managed the crisis or if there’s more work left for you to do!

Considerations – and steps we help brands understand, plan for and implement in NetBase, include crisis management contingency planning, such as:

  • Benchmarking normal ranges for volume and sentiment to determine when unusual changes occur.
  • Setting up alerts for immediate notification when a potential crisis is unfolding.
  • Gauging how big the issue is relative to the brand and compared to previous issues.
  • Determining how quick the issue is growing or dissipating by identifying and anticipating virality and longevity.
  • Sorting out the severity of a new issue and whether the brand needs to preempt, track or dismiss it.
  • Understanding how customers are talking about a potential issue, while identifying influencers and known detractors to understand their emotions, behaviors, and underlying motivations so brands can craft the best response.
  • When responding – knowing who the brand should respond to, and through which channel. Also, whether the response should be broad or targeted. And what, specifically, customers want to hear.
  • Knowing whether an issue has been contained.
  • Measuring the effectiveness of the brand’s response and whether additional actions need to be taken.
  • Best way to inform stakeholders throughout the process with real-time information.

And brands need to be certain their influencers are consistently relevant and on-point as well.

Influencers As Another Line of Defense

Not only must influencers be ready to go – they have to be the right influencers able to harness the sentiment you seek. And you’ll potentially need lots of them. So, identifying new influencers should be a weekly “to do” as having additional influencers already vetted and ready to activate can make all the difference in the world when a brand finds itself in the midst of a crisis.

To do this, brands need to examine influencers to see that they meet the following criteria:

  • Among the authors talking about my brand or category, who has influence among their social followers with a high follower count?
  • What are the professions and areas of interest for influencers talking about my brand or category?
  • Who is creating meaningful content for my category or brand?
  • How frequently do influencers post about my brand or category? What is their sentiment towards my brand or category?
  • How do influencers impact conversation about a given brand or category?
  • Is s/he controversial in any way? What other conversations are recurring themes for these influencers?

Ultimately, a brand needs to be confident of its own voice, and find influencers expressing sentiment to match. Nike has yet to shy away from taking a stand and neither has Kaepernick, so it seems to be a mutually beneficial match, considering.

Regardless of which side it chose there, there would be online hell to pay, but that isn’t always a bad thing either.

Controversy Can Be a Good Strategy

If your brand can withstand the heat, being a little controversy can be a good thing:

“According to TMZ Sports, Nike stock shares have since gone up 2 percent, which has goosed the company’s coffers to the tune of $3 billion. On Friday, TMZ reported shares of Nike stock were up slightly to $86.62. The company’s market value is now $136.38 billion.

“What I’m beginning to learn about Nike,” Kevin O’Leary of Shark Tank fame told TMZ, “they know how to take controversy and blow it up into advertising. . . . Nike also saw a bounce last September when it produced a commercial featuring Kaepernick.”

Right or wrong, is not the correct consideration here. Nike acted decisively and immediately – and made one heckuva profit in the process. They handled their Betsy Ross moment with aplomb. Your brand can too once you’re tuned in to Next Generation AI-powered social analytics!

Want to be ready for your unintentional (or intentional) moment in the sun? Reach out for a demo and we can help you find it, or prepare for it. Either way, your brand needs this in place right now.


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