Nike was one of the first brands to respond to the killing of George Floyd and the ensuing protests against police violence and racism that have swept the US and cities around the world. In stark black and white, the ad puts a twist on Nike’s famous slogan, "Just do it", to address racial tension.
The message reads: "For once, don’t do it. Don't pretend there's not a problem in America. Don't turn your back on racism. Don't accept innocent lives being taken from us."
This was a standout moment in the industry over the past week and will likely be one that is remembered in advertising for years to come. Nike is one of the few brands that can take a stand on social-justice issues, because it has a history of doing so, as with its 2018 campaign fronted by NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is known for his protests against racism and police brutality.
Nike also has a track record of supporting diverse communities, such as in London, where it has signed partnerships with youth sports organisations and transformed retail spaces into community centres. For a brand that has long worked with and profited from black culture, it would have been remiss for it to stay silent at this time.
There is an important caveat, however. Many people have pointed out that while Nike’s ad sends a powerful message, the company also has a way to go in getting its own house in order, particularly with a lack of diversity on its executive leadership team and issues with its labour and manufacturing practices. Nike shows that no brand, no matter how popular or celebrated, is exempt from the need to back up words with action.
It almost seems trivial to talk about the role of advertising at a time like this. As our columnist Ravi Amaratunga Hitchcock says: "Brands will not define the conversation during political unrest. They never have and never will. And they really shouldn’t try to."
Yet brands should also use whatever influence and platforms they have to support, elevate and work towards greater equality, within their own businesses and for their customers. Nike’s message will resonate as long as it doesn’t end with this.
Title For once, don’t do it
Agency Wieden & Kennedy Portland