A tale of two branding strategies

Nike’s, very successful. Simons’, not so much.

Mixing politics into your brand campaign strategy is a risk that can truly pay off. Just ask the folks at Nike, who are still doing a victory lap over the success of their controversial Colin Kaepernick campaign.

But such risk-taking with your brand can also lead to marketing disaster, which is why brand strategists at Simons are very unlikely to name a bra after a retired Supreme Court justice ever again.

Let’s look at the success of Nike first because they have become masters at using social issues to freshen up their brand and boost sales.

In September, Nike was looking for an exciting way to mark the 30th anniversary of their iconic Just Do It campaign, and of course bolster sagging sales that all makers of athletic clothing and gear have been experiencing lately.

Enter “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”, the punchline in a television spot featuring Kaepernick, the now unemployed quarterback who incurred the wrath of President Donald Trump for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem at NFL games.

Colin Kaepernick on Nike Just Do It campaign billboard

A Nike advertisement featuring Colin Kaepernick on a billboard in San Francisco. Credit Eric Risberg/Associated Press

The ad, debuted during the NFL season opener, was immediately denounced by conservative-minded consumers, who went as far as burning their Nike running shoes and calling for a boycott on social media.

Clearly, Nike decided it was worth the risk to anger the largely conservatives in exchange for bolstering mind share among millennials and others who like to support a brand that authentically reflects their views.

The strategy worked. Over the Labour Day weekend online product orders rose 27%, according to Edison Trends, a digital-commerce researcher. In the same period last year, product orders fell 2%

Nike stock prices hit an all-time high immediately after the campaign launch.

But we really shouldn’t be surprised because the content ecostructure is changing. Consumers increasingly believe brands can help solve society’s problems.

Thanks to an evolving content ecosystem, audiences are now more receptive to unapologetic campaigns that reflect their own beliefs. Having said that, you must know your market, know your audience and it must be authentic.

And on that, let’s look at a strategy that could have used a little more caution.

Quebec-based retailer La Maison Simons has apologized for its lingerie line named after famous Canadian women, including former Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin.

The line was meant to honour women who made historic contributions to Canada. Instead it caught the ire of Ms. McLachlin. She called company president Peter Simons and angrily demanded an apology over the branding of, ahem, the “Beverley Bralette.”

Beverley Bralette from Simons

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Branding tip: if you name your product after someone, please make sure they’re fine with it first. Also commemorated with lingerie were author Gabrielle Roy and suffragette Nellie McClung. They likely didn’t complain.

Simons said his marketing team had been looking for inspiration for their new lingerie line and thought, “why don’t we look towards inspiring Canadian women that we respect and admire?” What could possibly go wrong?

The lingerie line has been discontinued.

When you’re dealing with highly controversial subject matter, not every brand is Nike and can #JustDoIt. Sometimes to calculate risk and analyse potential reactions, it’s safer to sleep on it!

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