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Standing for everything means you stand for nothing


It was the advertisement seen (and read) around the world.

Last month, if you missed it, Nike made Colin Kaepernick the focus of its new worldwide campaign.

It was a gutsy move – the most political stand in Nike’s 50 years in business.  And, within hours, pundits from inside and outside advertising (including POTUS) weighed in with a collective, what was Nike thinking?

The background:  Kaepernick has been a lightning rod for the NFL (and Trump), thanks to his role in initiating kneeling protests against police brutality and racial injustice.  Along the way, “Kaep” has become one of the most divisive figures in sports – and blacklisted by the league.

Like the ad says, he believes in something.

Now, Nike has taken its own stand, and made a big bet too.  The stand:  “we’ve got your back, Kaep.”  The bet, astute and strategic, is less obvious.  But it’s there.  Nike is a global business with $36 billion in revenues.  Make no mistake, this is business.

Here’s what I think is happening.

The bulk of Nike-sponsored athletes are young and black, so the company is already aligned with the Kaepernick issue to begin with.  Beyond that, Nike is betting big on its core market instead of its secondaries.  It’s betting on young buyers – the more racially diverse and socially-conscious millennials – instead of the older, flag-waving patriot set.  The older folk bought Nike products years ago, but are they likely to keep buying in enormous numbers as they age?

It may seem brash – and that’s core to the Nike brand – but I believe Nike knew it would lose market share from older customers, and gain it back in spades from younger ones.  It’s business.  And the early results prove it.

Nike isn’t alone in taking a stand.

  • Politicians do this all the time.  They rarely get elected by playing things down the middle.
  • Musical artists appeal passionately to some, and not at all to others.
  • Movie-makers?  Same.  For every person who thinks John Boorman’s Deliverance is brilliant (me), there’s another who thinks it’s unwatchable (my wife).

So why not us?

Our own stand doesn’t have to be social or political.

We’re not all Nike – or Colin Kaepernick, for that matter.

We don’t need to be.

But taking a stand applies to you and me too.

I’ll go a step further.  Don’t our clients, students, donors, diners – whoever we serve expect us to take a stand?  Don’t they want our opinions and unique views… if advice or expertise is what we offer?  Or our craftsmanship… if we’re creating products?

I believe they do.

Look at it this way.  Any news organization has reporters and columnists.  Reporters tell us facts.  Columnists offer opinions. And it’s always the columnists that incite the letters to the editor and spark the debates.

We need to think like columnists.

When we stand for everything, we end up standing for nothing.  (Columnists aren’t neutral on any topic.)  When we try to satisfy everyone, we’re reporters.  We’re vanilla ice cream.  But when we stand for something, we’re Cherry Garcia or Triple Fudge Marshmallow.

We split apart from the pack.

We don’t take a stand to stir up trouble … or just to be seen or heard.

What I mean is whoever we serve relies on us for our own unique view.  It’s what they’re buying.  If we do this properly, our view offers value.  It’s useful.  It solves problems, or creates opportunity.  It improves something in some way.

Your own stand might mean clearly communicating:

  • what you do – and what you won’t
  • how you’re best able to help
  • what you believe is important – and not
  • who you serve – and who you shouldn’t
  • what’s free, what the customer pays for – and how you make a profit
  • where you draw the line

Remember: your stand is yours alone.  You’ll know you’re taking a stand when there’s even a tiny rumble in your stomach – when, like Nike, you risk losing one customer, but delighting another, because of what you believe.

An example:  one of my own stands is that brand-building requires more than marketing.  To me, it includes ingredients like culture, leadership, purpose and the customer experience.  Some companies just don’t see it that way.  So I’ve lost business from clients who only want a logo or a website or a digital strategy.  That’s okay.  My stand doesn’t line up with theirs.  It doesn’t make either of us wrong.  But I also know my stand is important to others, and that’s where I need to focus.

Nike could have stayed the course and done nothing.  It could have remained quiet on Kaepernick.  It could have been vanilla, not Tiger Stripe.

But when you stand for everything, you stand for nothing.

Taking a stand is brave.
Even scary.

And, for most of us… it’s expected.

So ask yourself:

  1. Is there a tiny rumble in your stomach?
  2. Are you taking your own stand?