Nike’s online sales spiked by 31 percent from the Sunday before Labor Day through the next Tuesday, eclipsing the 17 percent growth Nike saw during the same period in 2017. This followed Nike’s announcement of an ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick, the former NFL quarterback who was allegedly blacklisted by the league because he protested police violence against African-Americans.
This spike in sales defied the stock market’s expectations of the likely impact of Nike’s campaign — Nike’s stock dropped sharply when trading opened Tuesday morning. The ad campaign also earned a predictable response from America’s Racist-in-Chief.
What was Nike thinking?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 7, 2018
But Nike’s strong performance shouldn’t surprise anyone with a basic understanding of Nike’s business strategy — or anyone who understands how economic markets differ from political debate. For Nike, taking the opposite side from Donald Trump in a culture war isn’t just a good way to get noticed, it is good business.
Last year, Nike announced that it would focus much of its marketing efforts on just 12 cities — New York, London, Shanghai, Beijing, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin, Mexico City, Barcelona, Seoul, and Milan. The company said it expects 80 percent of its growth to come from these cites between 2017 and 2020.
None of these cites are the sort of places where you are likely to find brigades of white men wearing MAGA hats and ranting against Black Lives Matter — and those MAGAbots who do exist in these urban areas are very much in the minority. A month after Trump took second place in the 2016 election, a poll found that 70 percent of New Yorkers have an unfavorable view of the accidental president. In California, where Los Angeles is the largest city, His Accidency is not much more popular.
The genius of the Kaepernick ad campaign, in other words, isn’t that it was likely to sell shoes to the kind of older white voters that political reporters like to talk to when they go on safari to Iowa diners. Rather, the genius of the campaign is that, for every Trump supporter who is inspired to light their own shoes on fire, there are many more voters in key urban areas who admire Colin Kaepernick, and who aren’t particularly fond of Donald Trump either.
First the @NFL forces me to choose between my favorite sport and my country. I chose country. Then @Nike forces me to choose between my favorite shoes and my country. Since when did the American Flag and the National Anthem become offensive? pic.twitter.com/4CVQdTHUH4
— Sean Clancy (@sclancy79) September 3, 2018
There’s also a lesson here for analysts who monitor the stock markets to assess how the broader U.S. economy is doing. The stock market is not the economy. It reflects the (sometimes) educated guesses of the investor class — a group that tends to be much wealthier and more Republican than the nation as a whole — as to how particular companies are likely to perform.
If you bet against these investors’ predictions about how Nike’s Kaepernick campaign will play out, you probably will wind up wealthier than if you bet on the Trumpian conventional wisdom.