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Ethics and Governance Research Essay Assignment

Topic - Colin Kaepernick and Nike

Question: In 2018 Nike designed an advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick's (#TakeAKnee) protest against racial inequality and police brutality. What do you think Nike is doing here and is it ethical?


In the current business domain, the organisations have started engaging in the activities, which, conventionally were regarded as not corresponding to their economic role in the society. The international business firms are engaging in activities such as social security, education, public health and the human rights issue and are actively engaging in self-regulation for filling in the global disparities in moral orientation and legal regulation. The management of the environmental and social externalities in addition to the supply chain has been considered to be of paramount strategic necessity and as a leadershipchallenge in the businessdomain (Scherer et al., 2014).

In ensuring compliance with the corporate social responsibility for the organisation and creating an ethical business approach, it is significant for the leader to comprehend what is the code of ethics and its relation to good governance (Clark Mindock, 2018). Ethics play an important part in the CSR of an organisation and find a major presence in the normative discourse of leadership. Ethical action isjudged from the perspective of whether the behaviour is morally right or not. This further prompts the necessity of comprehending the need for ethical decision-making. Ethical decision-making is based on ensuring that the ensuringconsequence of a decisionis morally right and be beneficial for the other parties.

In 2018, Nike designed their advertising campaign, which featured Colin Kaepernick's (#TakeaKnee) protest against police brutality and racial inequality. In this paper I will present forth an analytical synopsis of the marketing campaign, drawing in the necessity for the campaign and whether it was successful and not. I will also present forth arguments whether the decisiontaken by the organisation could be considered ethical or not.


Nike's marketing campaign
In the current scenario rife with various divisive political narratives, majority of the corporations stick to a stance of avid disavowal and refuse to acknowledge any stance, which could divide their customer segments and harm their public perception. The current business domainis particularly engulfed with various rabid social media campaigns, which impugn the credibility of organisations and could cast the decisions in irrelevant social statements (Scherer and Palazzo, 2011). Yet this has not deterred Nike from stepping up in the mantle of promoting political advocacy with fielding one of the most controversial, divisive, yet lucrative superstar footballer, Colin Kaepernick.This soon cumulated to Nike being embroiled in a huge controversy following their decision to field Colin Kaepernick as the face of their Just Do It: 30th anniversarycampaign (Soo Youn, 2019). This however, has brought forth the need to question a more pertinent question, is the entire corporate strategy of advocating a political stance ethical?

Colin Kaepernick rose to the centre stage of media limelight and discussion following his decision to take a knee in protest against the prevalent police brutality and racial inequality in the country. Colin reportedly justified his action stating that he would not stand for the anthem of a country, which has oppressed minority, and people of colour. Nike's ad features a milieu of American athlete superstars, including Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, superimposed on a black and white background with the words "believe in something. Even if means sacrificing everything."The context surrounding the incident was the alarming rise in the number of incidents concerning police brutality in the country, which has become an incredibly contentious and polarising issue in the American society(Rathbone, 2018). There have been videos emerging, highlighting the police brutality being meted out to the minorities in the country and the abject negligence of the judicial systems, which has resulted in most of the perpetuators not serving jail time.

The brand has established itself and has been largely associated with the being anti-establishment, rebellious and countercultural. The business has adopted the zeitgeist of corporate activism which suits the progressive credentials the brand has associated itself with over the decades. As the situation stands, with stock market valuation of the brand rising to up to 5% and the market value increasing to $6 billion since the advertisement featured, Nike has successfully capitalised on the reimage of rebelliousness for pushing their products. Even with the furore surrounding the media campaign, it is evident that the camping successfully garners heightened attention to the brand and products (Lauren and Jessica 2018). The risk of alienating the customer base with the politicized nature of the campaign was meant to attract attention on the 30th anniversary and has reaped rich dividends for the organisation.

According to the research presented by market analysts and scholars, the majority of the consumer segments indulge in belief based purchasing decisions. According toRani (2014), the buying decision of the customer is majorly driven by the personal convictions, beliefs and their attitudes. Nike has capitalist on the content which us relevant for their customersegments and in the process of adopting Kaepernick's cause, agenda and initiative, the brand has successfully catapulted itself as a social active brands which is largelyappealing to their Gen Z and Millennial demographics. In the campaign, Nike has emphasised on the word Sacrifice, which is similar to the approach the business has employed in their operations, investing in theconsumers who are aligned to the values which the brand stands for even if it means sacrificing and alienating a major cement of the customers.

Nike's entire strategy is bordered on the premises of incorporating more corporate activism in their business operations; the use of popular political activist campaigns for catering to the progressive political narratives has become a potent corporate strategy. Nike has joined a host of different corporates ken on taking the progressive causes including Free Speech, tax reforms, Equality and LDBTQ+ rights. What Nike stands to gain from their stand is that the key demographics being recognised as the targeted customer segment for the company belong from the younger section of the society, Crafting a business approach with incorporating progressive causes could help in attracting the younger customer segments and ingrain a sense of brand loyalty. However, the corporate strategy of the organisation for taking a risk with promoting the footballer turned activist, Kaepernick, as the face of the brand, and taking a stance on majorly divisive issues has resulted in the brand risking the alienation of certain conservative customer segments(Mindock, 2018). The initial reactions to the advertisements has been mixed, with certain sections calling for boycotting of the brand for supporting Kaepernick who has been castigated by the president of the country while on the other hand has garnered support from celebrities and superstar athletes such as Serena Williams.


Ethical Decision-Makingand Nike-Kaepernick Partnership
Before analysing the ethicality of the marketing campaign, it is imperative to comprehend corporate activism and the nuances, which are associated with it. Corporate activism refers to the public stance taken by a company for positively influencing legislations or social change. It could be driven by the objectives of the organisation for appealing to a demographic or a specific audience who interact with the services and products. In other situation, corporate activism has been used by the leadership and the owners of organisations who support particular causes such as eco-friendly causes and robot ethics. Regardless of the existing intention behind corporate activism, it has shown to a have a substantial impact on the perception of the public and has influence the consumption of services and products to considerable degrees, either driving enhanced sales or provoking boycotts.
Solomonsconsiders the organisational ethical principle to be very subjective in nature, since the entire premise of the organisational ethics is based on the utility of two paradigms, namely the time and culture (Dierksmeieret al., 2016). Henceforth the corporate beliefs has suitable transformed with the traditional beliefs and customers for inspiring business conduct as it spreads across the demarcated confines

Reviewing the literature, which presents a compelling case regarding the question of the ethicality of the marketing campaign; it becomes apparent that there are several contrasting opinions regarding the use of Kaepernick. The advertisement has been criticised for commodifying the class struggles with marketing the protest initiated by Kaepernick. There have been questions regarding the intention of the marketing campaign, whether the partnership of Kaepernick-Nike is actually the harbinger of a more modern form of corporate activism or an example of capitalistic expropriation. The ethics of the marketing campaign has been overshadowed by the looming concerns of unethical practices, which the organisation has been accused of.Nike has been found to be rarely addressing the issues, which are around class narrative, and the company has been criticised several times for their labour rights violations. The businesshas been accused and dragged in legislative tussles over the violation of basic human rights in over 40 countries where the Nike products are manufactured. Nike has also had a fair share of accusations being levied for fostering aninherently sexist workenvironment, which has been a proponent of harassment anddiscrimination towards women.

According to Friedman, the decisions undertaken by the organisations always factor in the profit generation aspect and disregard whether the commitment is ethical or not. If the commitment breaks the code of conduct without breaking any laws and regulations, itis not branded as unethical(Rivas, 2017). Henceforth the decisionof Nike for featuring Colin Kaepernick as their image could be related to a promotional strategy for supporting the marketing and sales of their products. Colin Kaepernick, being a superstar footballer, endorsing the products provided by Nike is an effective strategy for appealing to their customers and helping them to identify with the products the business markets and designs. Friedman argues that the businesses primarily make their ethical decisions with considering what is more likeable to generate profit. The entire raison d'être of the brand as a commercial entity is to ensure a sustainable generation of revenue(Bowie, 2017). According to Friedman, the social responsibility of a business is to increase their profit generation. Nike has decided to feature Colin Kaepernick as the prominent face of the Just do it campaign, in an elaborate attempt for winning the market and being humanistic in nature, disregarding the critical reception of the brand by certain sections of the society. The standard framework of corporate social responsibility suggest that the organisation leaders always face with the dilemma of having to choose in between ethics or profit, choose profits. Any other decisions would be largely regarded as incumbent to the growth of the company and would be considered as incompetent by the parties investing in the business(Ferrell, O.C. and Fraedrich, J., 2015.).

Similarly, the decision undertaken by Nike for condemning the police brutality being perpetuated against the minority could be representing as Nike's endeavour for committing to progressive causes as a part of their corporate responsibility. Henceforthit could not be branded as unethical as the organisation is participating in corporate activism with the aim of influencing a positive impact on the immediate surroundings and the society in general(Crowther and Seifi, 2018).


Nike has successfully amplified the message of Kaepernick, portraying him as the new face of dissent but they have found suitable economic interest in doing so. The marketing advertisement has successfully humanised the brand, interacting, finding resemblance and representing the radically diverse customer segments. The advertisement has been criticised for commodifying the class struggles with marketing the protest initiated by Kaepernick for profit centric motives.However, Friedman argues that the businesses primarily make their ethical decisions with considering what is more likeable to generate profit.

Henceforth, the question of the ethicality of the entire marketing campaign is ambiguous. The campaign could be termed as ethical considering Nike's political advocacy as a testament to the commitment of the company to stand for progressive political causes, as a critique of the racial subjugation and narrative of white supremacy. The use of Colin Kaepernick' face has helped in advocating against the racial inequality and the police brutality which the minorities are being subjected to, which could be presented as a form of an extended corporate social responsibility by Nike for taking a progressive stance against the marginalisation and racial profiling.


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