This year marks the 30th anniversary of the “Just Do It” campaign, and from the very first ad, Nike has been addressing social issues. The first spot was a nod to ageism, with 80-year-old Walt Stack showing off his dedication to running, boasting his daily 17-mile run and the fact that he leaves his teeth in his locker during winter runs.


In 1993, Nike released a commercial with basketball player Charles Barkley. The focus was that just because he’s an athlete, it doesn’t mean he’s a role model for kids. This was released during a time when it was extremely popular for athletes to be kid-friendly and pose as role models.


In 2009, Nike featured Tiger Woods in a commercial featuring a voiceover of Woods’ deceased father asking him if he learned anything. This was right after his car accident and affair scandal, which was followed by his divorce after 7 years of marriage.


In 2010, Nike did a commercial with Lebron James, where he was asking “what should I do?” and saying “I’m not a robot,” in response to angry Cleveland fans who weren’t supportive of his decision to go to the Miami Heat.


And now, in 2018, it should be no surprise that they’ve featured Colin Kaepernick in their most recent advertisement, who has become widely known for protesting police brutality and racial inequality last year. When he began kneeling for the national anthem, he fueled a variety of reactions from the public.

Some were purely angry and questioned patriotism. President Trump called out the NFL, telling them to handle it. Others praised Kaepernick for using his platform as a professional athlete to bring awareness to things that matter. Many athletes joined him in his efforts, kneeling and speaking out about these social issues.

Today, Nike’s strategy is being questioned. President Trump even tweeted saying, “I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?” (In reference to Nike’s campaign decisions.) OF COURSE THEY DID, MR. PRESIDENT. In fact, the ad generated an estimated $43 million in buzz for Nike in a single day.

Nike has been doing this for YEARS. It’s brilliant. Not only are they trending, but they are doing what many of us are scared to do: publicly involving themselves in controversial social movements. But, whether you agree or disagree with what’s being said, if you’re talking about it, Nike is winning.



Plaid Swan is a women-owned marketing communications firm operating out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The firm represents clients across the United States in public relations, media planning, social and digital media, graphic design and strategic planning. Visit us online at or on our social media channels as @PlaidSwan. Lines are meant to be crossed.