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3 Valuable PR Lessons You Can Learn From the Nike Controversy

Want to generate the kind of publicity that most brands only dream of? Here's how Nike gives itself a powerful PR advantage – and you can, too.

Nike football

Nike’s name has been on everyone’s lips over the last few days after this happened on Twitter:

Depending on who you ask, that’s either a good thing or a bad thing.

This has created a virtual tsunami of publicity for the company, with one side praising the company, and the other side demonizing them — in some cases, even going as far as burning the Nike products they own.

This post won’t get into the politics of Nike’s decision to sponsor Colin Kaepernick though, because if there is anything our current social media environment has taught me, it’s that generally, everyone’s mind is already made up. There’s no value in discussing that here.

What I am going to do, however, is examine the Nike situation to highlight and explain three critical takeaways that you can learn from, and apply to your own PR and marketing.

Regardless of where you stand on this highly-divisive hot button topic, there is a lot to learn here.

And, if properly applied, you can gain a powerful and advantageous position over your competition.

1. Know Exactly Who Your Audience Is

Nike knows exactly who their audience is.

Do you?

When someone asks who your ideal customer is, what’s your answer?

For most people, the answer is usually something vague, like stay at home moms, veterans, or business owners. These kind of answers are a decent starting point, but there is still a long way to go from here.

You should be able to describe your audience in such a specific manner that when someone hears it, they can instantly say either “That’s exactly who I am!” or “That’s definitely not me!”

Nike knows exactly who their audience is.

I’ll give you a little hint who that is – if their decision to sponsor Kaepernick made you happy, you’re probably their ideal customer. If it pissed you off, then you probably aren’t.

Their products are mostly targeted at professional athletes and female customers. In fact, in recent years, the women’s training segment has grown faster than others.

Also, in an effort to ensure future growth, Nike has begun targeting young athletes, especially in categories like soccer, basketball, and running.

Nike made a bold PR move because they knew it would resonate with their audience, and infuriate people outside of their audience.

2. Controversy Creates Passion

Most brands, in a misguided attempt to appeal to more people, are mind-numbingly bland.

They take extraordinary measures not to turn anyone off, not realizing that this approach also doesn’t give anyone a reason to be passionate about the brand.

This is a huge mistake.

If you give the right people a good reason, they will love your brand.

However, you also need to come to terms with the fact that in doing that, other people will hate your brand.

Nike did a great job of using controversy to create passion – positive in one group, negative in another.

Within their audience, this passion led to tremendous positive publicity in the form of media discussing Nike’s actions, along with a steady flow of social media shares.

Outside of Nike’s audience, tremendous publicity was also created, but in this case, it was all negative.

Here’s where it gets interesting:

Earlier I explained how Nike knows exactly who their audience is. I also explained how giving your audience a reason to love your brand will inevitably make others hate it, which is fine because they aren’t going to buy from you anyway.

So all that the “negative” publicity did was spread Nike’s brand on an exponential scale.

The people who were their ideal customers continued to buy their products. In fact, sales even increased by 31 percent! Those who weren’t Nike’s ideal customers boycotted them, which had no impact.

Passion, both positive and negative, produced exactly the outcome Nike wanted.

Without controversy, that would never have happened.

3. Think Strategically for the Long-Term Outcome

Nike based their actions on what would have the greatest positive impact on selling their products to more women, professional athletes, and young athletes.

Their ideal customers.

All too often, we get caught up in what seems the most urgent at the moment rather than what is the most important for long-term success. This behavior can be fatal when it comes to marketing.

As a marketer, you need to think about not how you can try to appeal to everyone — that’s impossible.

Instead, think about how to endear your brand to your audience.

How can you differentiate your brand from others? And how can you foster a deep and powerful passion in you brand from your audience?

Nike thought strategically here, and they knew exactly who their ideal customer was, so they took action that would give those specific people a reason to love them.

If you’re thinking something along the lines of “That’s bullsh!t! What they did was offensive and I’ll never buy their products again!” then chances are that you aren’t their ideal customer anyway, so they don’t really care.

Think about it like this:

If you could do something that would make you a hero to 1,000 people, but a loser to one other person, would you avoid taking action just because of that one person?

Of course not!

Nike chose an action that made them a hero in the eyes of their ideal customers — the people who would be responsible for driving real growth, both today and in the future.

The fact that they offended some people is insignificant because those particular people have no real impact on their revenue.

In fact, by offending them to the point where they felt the need to opine, they are actually generating tons of publicity with literally zero downside.

Scoring a Touchdown with Your PR

Successful PR requires you to understand these three important fundamentals – knowing your audience, creating controversy, and thinking strategically – but also to have the discipline to execute on them.

Most people aren’t willing to, which creates tremendous opportunities for those who are.

If you can do that, you can generate the kind of publicity that most brands only dream of.

VIP CONTRIBUTOR Jeremy Knauff CEO at Spartan Media

Jeremy Knauff is the founder of Spartan Media, and brings nearly two decades of experience to the table. His Tampa-based ...

3 Valuable PR Lessons You Can Learn From the Nike Controversy

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