The Weekend Mumbo: Crisis and opportunity often look the same

Nike had a race problem.

Granted, they had willingly waded right into the controversy, much as they did when they launched an advertising campaign featuring Lance Armstrong as his doping scandal swirled. Or when they doubled down on their Tiger Woods advertising as stories of extramarital affairs were heating up gossip columns.

This time, Nike had chosen Colin Kaepernick as the face of a new global campaign. In 2018, when Nike made this decision, Kaepernick was one of the most divisive players in American football. He’d been locked out of the NFL due to his decision to drop to one knee during the playing of the national anthem before matches, calling it a protest against police killings of African Americans, and other racial injustices done under the American flag.

Kaepernick’s protest divided the league and its supporters. Donald Trump called him a “son of a bitch” and claimed he disrespected the flag. Older greats of the game said similar. People were angered at being forced to consider racial injustice on a sleepy Sunday when they were trying to enjoy the game.

When Kaepernick’s free agency came up, no club would touch him. He claimed collusion by the league’s club owners, left the league, and languished in exile. Then Nike came in, reactivated an old contract, and made him the face of their brand.

“Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything,” the ad read, the text imprinted over a stark black-and-white close-up of Kaepernick’s face. With this ad, Nike was taking a knee.

“We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward,” Nike executive Gino Fisanotti told ESPN as the ad launched. “We wanted to energise its meaning and introduce ‘Just Do It’ to a new generation of athletes.”

Share prices dropped 2% overnight. Talk show pundits raved. A former marine cut the Nike swoosh out of his socks and proudly posted the video online. #JustBurnIt was the second highest trending topic of the day, beaten only by #BoycottNike.

However, as Sam Fleming, general manager of Wildcard by TLA, told audiences at the Mumbrella Sports Marketing Summit on Thursday, the brand was struggling in the 18-29 market. This is who they were hoping to attract by siding with Kaepernick.

It’s not surprising that kids weren’t excited by Nike. To the average 18 year old in 2018, it was an ageing footwear brand with its glory days far in the rearview mirror; their dads wore Nike. Their granddads did, too. Not only that, they were an entrenched corporation – half a century old and imperceptible from other stock market giants such as the banks and car companies.

Nike’s research showed 60% of males in that 18-29 year-old market thought brands could be doing more to make the world a better place. They also believed most brands didn’t display a strong purpose (presumably beyond the usual factors that drive businesses).

With Kaepernick, Nike had a purpose. Or rather, they had aligned themselves with a purpose. Same thing. Fleming said the campaign and the resultant controversy gave Nike an estimated $200 million in earned media.

Post-campaign polling of the 18-29 market showed 62% had a neutral or positive association with Nike, and – more concretely – they saw a 36% uplift in sales through digital channels.

“Ultimately, they understood their core and what they hoped to achieve,” Fleming said.

Fleming’s talk was titled Creativity in a crisis: How it can be your best friend when shit hits the fan.

“Good creativity can turn a crisis into an opportunity,” he explained.

His agency worked on The Carlton Draft, a phonetically opportunistic campaign that locked onto the struggling community football scene in Australia, and injected some much-needed support.

Covid had shut down sporting leagues around the world, and as clubs and grounds laid dormant, money was bleeding.

“Community footy was at a real crossroads,” Fleming said.

Sixty per cent of clubs worried about decreased membership, while one in ten feared insolvency.

“We needed to find a way to make the brand feel like they are not only supporting community footy, but becoming part of the fabric.”

The Carlton Draft saw 14 ex-AFL legends drafted to play one-off games for community footy clubs across Victoria. Not surprisingly, the games sold out, and moments were made.

Dale Thomas joined the struggling Nhill Tigers for one memorable match. The team, nestled in country Victoria, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide, hadn’t won a game for 1,029 days.

With Thomas in the ranks, the team clinched a one-point victory, and made over $12,000 from ticket sales to boot.

Fleming said it re-energised the entire club.

“There were men crying in the change rooms, lots of singing,” he recalled. “Lots of beer – which was good for the brand.”

“Brands can do real good and make real change to community sport, and those in crisis,” he noted.

A good opportunity can also present a lot like a crisis: you need to move quickly and decisively.

Nobody knows the importance of a good opportunity like David Weiner, the director of content for the A-Leagues. He also spoke at the Sports Marketing conference this past week (are you sensing a theme?), on the need to capitalise on the surge that women’s football is currently experiencing following the FIFA Women’s World Cup, while also recognising building real support is a long game.

The league’s online hub, the Dub Zone (a nod to the women’s league’s previous incarnation as the W-League) is looking to tread that delicate balance between making the new fans feel welcome enough to wade into the water, and the very real risk that posting more shallow content might repel the diehard fans used to swimming in the deep.

Women’s sport is having a long-overdue moment, as many of Thursday’s conference speakers reinforced. But the sense of urgency was palpable, too – this is an opportunity, and an emergency.

Throughout the week, Krispy Kreme found itself with quite the opportunity.

As Mumbrella tactfully pointed out, a new commercial spot for the donut chain inadvertently used a racist slur in a less-than-subtle way.

Within a few hours of Mumbrella querying them on the ad, it had been scrubbed from the net.

“We never intended to offend any person or group,” a company spokesperson told us shortly after. “We are sorry for the oversight and have removed all congratulations-related ads from the campaign.”

The company has a history of clumsy gaffes, including the unfortunate abbreviation of its Krispy Kreme Klub, and a free donut giveaway during the Melbourne lockdowns that jammed traffic and saw the Public Order and Riot Squad intervene.

During his Mumbrella session on Thursday, Fleming ran the audience through an exercise where they had to think of a way to get fired for a truly bad campaign idea; one suggestion was hiring controversial musician Kanye West as a spokesperson.

Fleming then asked the audience to work out how they would act to reverse this crisis.

“It removes the guardrails,” he explained of the exercise.

Krispy Kreme crashed through the guardrails. They responded quickly, but Mumbrella’s story had already been picked up by international media.

What happens next is what matters most. Is it a crisis? Is it an opportunity? As is often the case – it might be both.


As for the rest of the week, check out our Mumbrellacast, featuring Michael Thompson, Adam Lang, and Sean Aylmer.

In the latest podcast, they look at the Krispy Kreme controversy in more depth, explore the best work perks in adland, and look into a recent spike in magazine readership, as people rediscover the joys of offline media.

Enjoy your weekend.


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