Give credit to Nike for still being able to shock America. On Labor Day, the popular shoe brand celebrated the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan with a controversial new commercial. The ad featured Colin Kaepernick, who’d become one of the most polarizing figures in sports by taking a knee during the national anthem.
By day’s end, social media was buzzing with reactions—not all good. Some were burning their shoes in protest. #Nikeboycott became a hashtag on Twitter. By Tuesday, Nike’s stock prices had dropped 3%. Most consumers were left wondering, “What was Nike thinking?” Whether they tweeted about it the next day or not, they found themselves gazing at their sneakers, forced to take sides. Should they stand with Nike, or join the boycotters?
The Tribes that Bind
To understand Nike’s agenda, it’s important to understand the idea of tribalism—and how it applies to marketing. For millennia, mankind has functioned as a network of tribes. Historically, this was done for protection: The bear might get one of us, but it can’t get us all. Today, people engage in tribalism as a way to share their lifestyles, values and beliefs.
Brand tribalism is an extension of this, a way for us to connect to others who hold similar beliefs about a brand. We support a brand not only out of utility, but because it helps us share something about ourselves to others. Think of Lululemon, Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. When we align with a brand, we create a social link that identifies us to the rest of the world.