J. Pharoah Doss: ‘Just do it’ at 30 (Sept. 12)


Apparently, it’s the 33rd anniversary of Nike’s “Just do it” advertising campaign. To commemorate their signature slogan, Nike launched a new ad featuring NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The ad has Kaepernick’s face with the caption: Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.
Kaepernick became a hero for social justice advocates for initiating the “national anthem protest” before NFL games. Kaepernick didn’t participate in the NFL’s pregame national anthem ceremony because he didn’t want to honor a country that allowed the murder of unarmed Black men by the police. But after President Donald Trump told a crowd of supporters at a MAGA rally that NFL owners should fire players that disrespected the nation’s flag, the focus shifted away from police brutality, and the national anthem protest was drafted by “The Resistance” to the Trump presidency.
Since Nike’s advertising campaign always targeted young, impressionable minds, they chose to endorse the initiator of this symbolic resistance, and capitalize off the anti-Trump momentum, because millions of young consumers supported Kaepernick as an agent for change.
Besides, Nike executives overheard Black pundits dismissing Kaepernick detractors on national TV by bragging Kaepernick still had the number one selling NFL jersey on the market. (Aren’t those made by Nike?) Now, Nike’s swoosh will be connected with social justice, but that wasn’t always the case.
In 1984 Nike signed basketball star Michael Jordan to endorse their brand. In 1985 the Air Jordan shoe hit the market and was popularized by TV ads featuring Spike Lee. In 1987, the year Kaepernick was born, another filmmaker’s critically-acclaimed movie “Wall Street” hit the big screen. The film captured the ethos of the decade in a definitive scene when the main character stated his motto: Greed is Good. The next year, Nike’s signature slogan, “Just do it,” was created. (Which a lot of parents and teachers, whose biggest concern was teenage pregnancy, said encouraged impulsive hedonism.) The 1980s ended with kids wanting to be like Mike, and adults adopting the greed motto while admiring business tycoons like, believe it or not, Donald Trump.
In 1991 the Washington Post reported, “Nike revenues soared from $270 million in 1980 to an industry-leading $2.23 billion last year. But this classic American success story is about more than money: It’s about marketing strategies and social responsibility, about what some see as sound business practices and others see as exploitation.”
Black school principals complained that the demand for high-priced sneakers drove their students to sell drugs. Jesse Jackson stated Nike was exploiting an ethos of mindless materialism, Black youth are trapped with economic depression, with zero-based self-esteem: “I’m nothing. You are less. If you cross me, I will shoot you. For my inadequate feelings about myself, I must at least identify with the good. So, I cover up my inadequate feelings with $200 tennis shoes.”
Nike executives rejected Jackson’s claim. One Nike consultant said, “People will kill you for jewelry, should we blame the jewelry companies, too? Ninety-nine percent of motorcycle gangs are wearing crosses, does that mean churches should shut down?”
Just as long as the “boys in the hood” were loyal consumers, Nike had no interest in how or why they purchased their product. Then Nike came under fire for outsourcing labor overseas and abusive labor practices. It was reported that Indonesian Nike workers earned 14 cents an hour.
A lot of “conscious consumers” have been boycotting Nike ever since.
Nike has cleaned up its sweatshop image, but the irony here is that the social justice crowd will always condemn America for its shameful past, but they’ll ignore Nike’s 30-year history of ignoring complaints like Jesse Jackson’s just to praise Kaepernick’s endorsement deal. Is this what it means to be “woke” in 2018?
(J. Pharaoh Doss is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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