Despite Initial Blowback for Its Controversial Kaepernick Ad, Nike’s Sales and Stock Increase

Compared to this time last year, they've almost doubled their revenue

Nike's sales grew 31 percent from the day before Labor Day to the day after, according to Edison Trends. Getty Images
Headshot of Diana Pearl

Nike reportedly saw a fairly major sales boost over the Labor Day holiday last week—and chances are, it has Colin Kaepernick to thank.

Edison Trends, a digital commerce research firm, reported that Nike’s sales went up 31 percent from Sunday, September 2, to Tuesday, September 4. Labor Day, of course, fell on Monday, September 3, and was the day the company released the now-famous ad featuring NFL player-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who rose to international prominence for his protests of police brutality during the national anthem on the field.

Labor Day is a major day on the retail calendar, typically seeing an influx of fresh fall-ready items hitting the shelves and new markdowns on summer pieces that stores are trying to get rid of. However, for Nike, this year’s sales increase over the holiday was substantially bigger than last year’s: 31 percent compared to last year’s 17 percent. That bump, Edison Trends reports, continued into Tuesday, and even on Wednesday, they were at a higher point than they were at the same time last year. Nike declined to confirm this, with a spokesperson for the company stating that they do not comment on sales numbers.

These numbers may be surprising considering the fact that Nike’s decision to use Colin Kaepernick in its advertising—and even more meaningfully, show an outright display of support for the athlete—was not universally praised. In the immediate aftermath of Nike’s release of the Kaepernick ad, several social media users called for a boycott of the brand, with a few going as far as cutting the Nike logos off their socks or burning their Nike sneakers.

"If anything, the 'boycotts' strengthened the resolve of customers and Nike's core messaging."
—Anthony Cospito, head of strategy, Moving Image & Content

However, it seems that these protests, though flashy, didn’t gain much traction in terms of an immediate brand impact. “From our initial findings, it seems to be a risk that has paid off,” Hetal Pandya, co-founder of Edison Trends, said. “So the initial speculation that the Nike/Kaepernick campaign would lead to a drop in sales seems to be unfounded.”

In fact, Anthony Cospito, head of strategy at Moving Image & Content, said that these protests may have even propelled people to buy Nike products to counter the backlash.

“The boycotts absolutely had an impact, but in an opposite manner than intended,” he said. “Though social media was strewn with imagery of burned, ripped and ruined Nike products for a short while, the boycott came across more as an act of petulant children than a cohesive commercial backlash. If anything, the ‘boycotts’ strengthened the resolve of customers and Nike’s core messaging.”

Perhaps this is also because Nike’s core customers not only expect this sort of marketing from the brand—they welcome it. After all, this is not Nike’s first ad that sought to push the conversation around social issues forward: Previously, they’ve tackled topics like HIV and gender inequality. “This is a continuation in a series of bold ads over the last 30 years for Nike,” Allen Adamson, co-founder of brand consultancy Metaforce, said. “It continues a tradition of finding the edge and standing for something definitive.”

Nike’s seen other means of financial growth since, though Nike’s stock dipped a bit in the days after the ad was released, it’s already bounced back, growing 2.67 percent, according to Bloomberg. Nike’s also seen a boost in publicity thanks to the enormous chatter that the ad generated for the brand: Bloomberg reported that Apex Marketing Group values that bonus publicity at a whopping $163 million.

The brand’s continued success and spike in sales (even as it put out an ad that stirred controversy—one that even the president weighed in on) also speaks to Nike’s deep understanding of its core customer, according to Brian Salzman, founder and CEO of consulting agency RQ. And that customer, he says, is one that shares the same values as Nike itself.

“People want to come together and rally behind something good and right,” he said. “Nike’s consumers are part of a strong community with shared values, and this relationship between the brand and its consumers proves that there is great value to be found in authentic relationships.”

@dianapearl_ Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.