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Opinion: Belief-driven consumerism divides business sector

Truth Be Told

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I support companies I believe in.

The taste of coffee alone, for example, can’t buy my brand loyalty to a bag of coffee beans. I look for a “direct trade” or “fair trade” label. 

I’m an animal lover, so I like to support products that don’t conduct animal testing. And I gravitate toward companies that publicly advocate for certain social issues.

And I’m not alone.

The 2017 Edelman Earned Brand study analyzed belief-driven consumers and found half of those polled believe that brands can do more than government to solve societal ills. Over two-thirds said they would buy a brand for the first time based solely on that brand’s position on a given topic.

Enter Colin Kaepernick.

While at the time he wasn’t associated with a brand, a recent powerful and polarizing display of standing up for what you believe in actually began by sitting.

In the 2016 preseason, the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback first sat during the national anthem as a protest to social injustice and the treatment of black men and women in this country. He later began kneeling, a suggestion from a retired NFL player.

His protest started a flurry of backlash that ultimately resulted in severing his contract with the team in March 2017. Since then, he’s personally donated $1 million to causes fighting social injustice.

While his bold statement, and the many responses that followed, never really left the public conversation, they were brought back to a boiling point earlier this month.

On Labor Day, Nike (NYSE: NKE) announced Kaepernick would appear in the 30th anniversary of its Just Do It advertising campaign.

The black and white image features Kaepernick’s face with this phrase overlaid: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

The accompanying campaign video is a montage of inspirational athletes defying the odds.

“If people say your dreams are crazy, if they laugh at what they think you can do – good,” the video narrated by Kaepernick begins. “Stay that way.”

The day after announcing its new campaign featuring Kaepernick, Nike’s shares fell 3.2 percent as #NikeBoycott began trending on Twitter.

But then consumers had their chance to speak.

Online sales shot up 31 percent from the Sunday before Labor Day through Tuesday, as compared with a 17 percent uptick in the same period of 2017, according to San Francisco-based Edison Trends.

Nike’s sales have settled, but the impact of its decision won’t soon be forgotten.

Point Lookout-based College of the Ozarks announced its plans Sept. 5 to ban student athletes from wearing the Nike brand.

Spokeswoman Valorie Coleman previously told Springfield Business Journal the cost to replace its Nike uniforms would likely exceed $100,000.

C of O explained its decision as placing country over company. President Jerry Davis accused Nike of promoting “an attitude of division and disrespect toward America.”

The private college passionately promotes Christian values, hard work and patriotism.

In an SBJ poll, 64 percent of the 496 of you who voted said you supported the college dropping Nike products.

In a New York Times op-ed, Kaepernick’s teammate Eric Reid, who joined him in kneeling during the anthem, penned these words: “My faith moved me to take action. I looked to James 2:17, which states, ‘Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.’ I knew I needed to stand up for what is right.”

I can’t help but draw the parallels between the passions fueling this debate.

Each side believes so strongly that their actions are necessary to uphold the ideals of this country.

While Nike’s risky campaign has been rewarded with an uptick in sales, I also would guess C of O’s choice moved its donors to give.

The divisiveness across the country is rapidly spilling over into the business sector.
 
Shamefully, this has just led to another arena that’s building walls, not bridges.

The myriad individuals and organizations that have decided to boycott Nike are misguided. C of O forfeited an opportunity. Instead of wasting money and attention on the national stage, they could have used their platform for dialogue toward a solution.

This problem won’t go away by throwing away T-shirts and tennis shoes. It’s a deeper issue of the heart.

If we would look beyond Kaepernick kneeling, we would see a painful cry to end injustice.

Nike’s commercial doesn’t disrespect our country or flag. It begs us to live up to what that flag stands for – it’s an invitation to dream.

I’m going to continue to give my money to businesses I believe in. And I’ll always jump at the chance to rally around a business that appeals to a greater calling to bring this country together.

Springfield Business Journal Features Editor Christine Temple can be reached at ctemple@sbj.net.

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