The 39-month-long MAGA enema Trump supporters have voluntarily subjected themselves to has evidently waterlogged their brains, which is why so many of them are burning and defacing their very expensive, already purchased Nike gear in the wake of the company’s recent Colin Kaepernick ad.
That said, one is tempted to conclude that Nike’s marketing geniuses have lost their minds, or are so invested in social justice that they’ve thrown all caution to the wind.
But no. The company is too savvy to seriously endanger its multibillion-dollar brand. This is a calculated business move, and it appears to be a good one.
Josh Barro, a senior editor for Business Insider, notes that the new Nike ad campaign is similar to those of other companies that have seen a major upside in shaking things up, politically speaking:
[Nike’s] choice — along with the recent choices of other corporations to wade into political disputes, as with Delta's and Dick's Sporting Goods' recent brushes with gun-rights activists — tells us something about new political incentives facing brands.
This isn't “woke capital.” Companies are maximizing profits as they always did, but they're responding to incentives that have shifted to encourage political participation by brands.
There is still a downside risk for brands that get political: They may alienate some of their customers. The people posting videos of themselves destroying their own bought-and-paid-for Nike sneakers may not buy new ones anytime soon.
What's new is brands are seeing a major upside risk. As more consumers come to expect brands to reflect their moral and political values, a brand that takes a side on a controversial issue can strengthen its bond with a consumer segment, making them willing to buy more or to buy at a higher price.
But there is an asymmetry: This mostly works if you engage from the left, not the right.
Why is it now okay for companies to openly cater to liberal sensibilities? Because those are the sensibilities of their customers — i.e., young people with disposable income. As Barro notes, “Appealing to senior citizens is a good way to win an election, but it's not a good way to sell most consumer products and services.”
As American politics gets more polarized by age and less polarized by income, most brands' target customer will tend to move left relative to the country's political median, even as the average voter sits to the right of the whole country's political median.
For example, a poll conducted for The Washington Post in May found that 63% of respondents over age 50 thought it was “never” appropriate to protest by kneeling during the national anthem; only 38% of respondents under 30 said the same.
Younger Americans are also more ethnically diverse than older Americans, so a company trying to sell to young people is naturally selling into a much more diverse “electorate” than a political party running a national election in which the average congressional district is significantly whiter than the country as a whole.
So, think about the demographic of who's most upset about Kaepernick's protest movement, and then think about how much an athletic-apparel company needs to concern itself with the opinions of senior citizens, and then think about why Nike thinks this ad campaign will improve its sales.
In other words, the country is slowly but surely becoming more liberal — and Trump voters really can’t do much to protest against this move other than doodle a haphazard Nike swoosh on their granny panties and burn them on a sad backyard bonfire. Because, increasingly, MAGA morons are not Nike’s customers.
So if Nike, a global company that depends on a vast pool of repeat customers, sees the political winds shifting, how long will it be before politicians see it?
Clearly, millennials are no longer buying their elders’ bullshit — on gun control, gay marriage, racial injustice, immigration, flag-waving jingoism, trickle-down economics, and a host of other issues.
So if millennials get off their asses and vote — rather than just buy shoes — and Sean Hannity’s viewers continue to stroke out over the unrelenting existence of Hillary Clinton, the coming blue wave will become a permanent flood.
Nike sees it. How long before it becomes obvious to the Grand Old Party?
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