How Do Gen Z & Millennials Really Feel About Nike’s Kaepernick Ad?

Was Nike right to bet on Kaepernick to appeal to Gen Z & Millennials? Real-time data from our youth brand tracker reveals what young consumers really think of Nike in the wake of their controversial marketing move…

In case you missed it—though we don’t really know how you could have—Nike kicked off quite the controversy last week, when they announced that former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick would be the new face of their marketing campaigns. It’s hard to imagine that Nike didn’t know the move would push some hot topic buttons, but they may not have foreseen backlash against their brand building into people destroying their products. There was a lot of noise about those protesting their choice to feature Kaepernick, who is at this point more famous for his decision to kneel during the national anthem than for his football career, as some objectors took to Twitter, posting images and videos of themselves cutting the logos off socks, setting sneakers on fire, and calling for a mass boycott of the brand.

At the same time, many were quick to clap back to the protesters, and at the end of the day, the controversy could be working in Nike’s favor. While the brand’s stock sunk 3% on the day they debuted the ad, Business Insider reported that Millennials were snatching the stock up in droves, and data indicates that Nike’s core demographic is more likely to support the move than burn their merch. CNBC quoted NPD Vice President Matt Powell, who quipped, “If Baby Boomers stopped buying Nike, I don't think they'd ever notice.” The debate has continued: has this bold marketing decision appealed to the young consumers that Nike is clearly targeting? We dug into our youth brand tracker Ybrands to get the data on exactly what they think of Nike right now.

Ybrands launched in January of this year, and has collected over 44,000 interviews that tell us how young consumers feel about more than 300 brands, asking them about the brands they think are cool, true to themselves, supporting causes, and more. So how has the Kaepernick controversy impacted Nike in the eyes of Gen Z and Millennials?

Here are Nike’s scores across key metrics that make up their brand affinity, tracked over time:  

These scores, among 13-36-year-olds, show that across many vital areas, Nike’s marketing decision is paying off. Between August and September (the week that Kaepernick’s ad debuted and the firestorm of online backlash began) Nike’s scores improved as a brand young consumers have heard positive things about, like to hear from, is true to themselves, and cool. The ad seems to have uplifted Nike’s relevance and momentum as well, causing an increase in their scores as a brand that is popular, reflects diversity, supports causes, and is talked about.  

That last metric saw a significant spike, not surprising considering the amount of conversation that Nike has been at the center of for the past week. Why does it matter? Like their decision to take a stand (or knee as it were) with Kaepernick or not, that’s a lot of marketing power. In fact, Apex Marketing Group estimates the exposure is worth more than $163 million.

Let’s talk about the large increase seen in their standing as a brand that supports causes, another vital stat among Gen Z and Millennial consumers. In our 2016 research on the trend PC Police, we found that 54% of 13-33-year-olds said it was positive for a brand to publicly declare support for a progressive cause. Our new Causes to Crises trend shows that this feeling has only continued: more than seven in ten 13-35-year-olds say brands have just as much responsibility as people to get involved with social causes, and even more say that buying products from brands that support the causes they support makes them feel better about spending money. 

But are young consumers more likely to buy Nike over their competitors post-Kaepernick? We looked at some of the key metrics above, comparing Nike to some of their peers to see how they rank: 

Here we see that Nike, which has long been a favorite of young consumers, not only maintains their high competitive ranking, but actually increased in some of these key areas between August and September as their competitors' scores dropped. And while their "will use/buy" score stayed relatively flat, it also stayed much higher than other brands in the industry. 

Ad Age called the campaign "a bold move in an age where marketers often talk a big game about becoming part of the cultural conversation, but often fall short by refusing to take much of a stand on anything”—and clearly the decision to support a cause so publicly has continued to endear Nike to young consumers. Their brand standing stays strong and has, in fact, seen boosts across some important areas in appealing to Gen Z and Millennials. In the end, the majority of those burning their Nike logos are likely not from the generations that Nike cares most about, and so they can consider their alliance with Kaepernick a success, despite the loud backlash.

To download a PDF version of this insight article, click here

Want to talk to us about the article
or dive into a custom study?


The Newsfeed

Quote of the Day: “A lot of people stay in jobs they hate. They feel stuck or need the money. I refuse to do this. I just gave up a Nursing career to be a CSR and I have never been happier.”—Female, 27, IN

YouTube is cracking down on creators that participate in dangerous viral challenges. The media giant updated their community guidelines to take a stronger stance against stunts that spin out of control—like the Tide Pod Challenge. Any creator that performs “pranks that make victims believe they’re in serious physical danger” will earn a strike—three and they’re out. What could constitute a strike? Just ask Jake Paul, who recently drove blindfolded for the #BirdBoxChallenge. (The Verge)

The inner five-year-old of Millennials everywhere is jumping up and down for Hot Topic’s Polly Pocket collab. In partnership with Mattel, the brand that wins at delivering unique styles is dropping a 17-piece collection of nostalgic merch. (The line looks a lot like another throwback collection we called out last year.) In celebration of the iconic toy’s 30th birthday (feel old yet?), ‘90s kids can cop everything from bags to hats to mini makeup palettes that feature shades like “Made in the 90s.” (Nylon)

YouTubers Life OMG! is like The Sims for a generation of aspiring social media stars. Players can pretend to be a video game streamer, a passionate creative, or another influencer. But the game is just as realistic as the kids who play it, making them do chores and deliver newspapers when they’re off the air. Similarly, most kids seem to know the dream is not a full-time gig; just take it from nine-year-old Oliver, who explains, “Of course I will have a good job as well, not just YouTube." (Vice)

Big brands are swooping in to save young shoppers from 2018’s oat milk shortage. The buzzy beverage has become the environmentally friendly alternative to almond milk for Millennial & Gen Z shoppers seeking dairy-free and vegan options. It became a barista favorite this year, mainly thanks to industry upstart, Oatly, which is opening a new factory to up their production. But they better hurry: big brands like Pepsi Co.’s Quaker Oats, Danone’s Silk, and Califia Farms are all getting in on this grain-based trend. (Bloomberg)

The most old-fashioned form of TV is experiencing a surge: over-the-air. While the Post-TV Gen continue to cut the cord, more are buying physical antennas to tap free networks and watch live events. Nielsen data found that this kind of old-school appointment viewing jumped from 9% of all homes in 2010 to 14% last year. Diving deeper into that 14%, about three in five also subscribe to streaming services like Netflix, and their median age is 36. (Fortune)

Quote of the Day: “I’d rather do a job I'm passionate about for a lower salary than do a high-paying but low-rewarding job.”—Male, 18, MA

Sign Up Now

Subscribe for premium access to our content, data, and tools.

Already a subscriber? Sign in.

Upgrade Now

Upgrade for full access to the best marketing tools for understanding the next generation.

View our Client Case Studies