Should Nike take a political stand with one of its biggest stars?
CREDIT: Getty Images
Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
Who’d be a CEO when everything seems to have become politicized?
Last week, Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank declared that Donald Trump was “a real asset for the country.”
The stars who are paid to wear Under Armour’s logo — the Golden State Warriors’ Stephen Curry, for example — insisted they’d prefer to lose the last two letters of asset.
Which left the impression that the CEO and his most famous faces had made the brand look conflicted.
Now Nike has take its stance. In an emotionally-charged ad making its debut during the Grammys, some of Nike’s most well-known stars insist that they are for equality.
Many will see this as a thinly-veiled rebuke to some of the rhetoric (and actions) emerging from the White House.
The opening words present a challenge: “Is this the land history promised?”
We see, among others, the NBA’s LeBron James and Kevin Durant, tennis goddess Serena Williams, Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, the NFL’s Victor Cruz, women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe and athlete Dalilah Muhammad all standing firm to fight discrimination of any kind.
Soon, we hear: “Equality should have no boundaries” and “Worth should outshine color.”
We hear that in sports “you’re defined by your actions, not your looks or beliefs.”
Sports, the great equalizer — when balls aren’t being deflated, that is — stands for everyone having an equal chance.
The music — Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come sung by Alicia Keys — makes the whole thing feel like a protest from the 60s.
Perhaps America hasn’t come as far it thinks.
Is this Nike and its stars speaking from their moral soul? Or is there now inevitably a peculiar marriage between a company’s business mission and its political stance?
Some will see this as pure marketing on Nike’s part. They’ll say that it’s targeted at the younger generations, who tend toward being more socially progressive and, coincidentally, buy a lot of sporting apparel.
Still, Nike’s message here contrasts starkly with Plank’s words — which may well have been merely a strategic currying of favor with the president.
“If we can be equal here,” says LeBron James of the sporting arena, ” we can be equal everywhere.”
Where this succeeds is that Nike is showing itself to be at one with the spirit of its most prominent athletes — however risky (or not) that might be in the long run.
Whether you agree with their socio-political stance is, of course, another matter. Who would be surprised if the release of this ad was followed by protests and threats of one kind or another?
Plank, though, may wish he’d at least consulted with those who have helped build his brand into being a meaningful challenger before nailing his image to a goalpost.
Politics is infernally tricky and moves with a very slippery trajectory.
Think of it as a messy Messi.
Winning at politics over the long-term isn’t exactly a science or even remotely fair. It involves far too many things that may be out of your control.
Even the best business people — most not unfamiliar with manipulation — often find politics maddening in the extreme.
Just ask the businessman who’s currently running the country.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.