Reputation management: the effect of a controversial campaign

Linsey • 8 minute read • 15/10/2018
Reputation management
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What happens when a brand launches a controversial campaign that causes commotion? Sports brand Nike was under fire because of their ‘Dream Crazy’ campaign. For the thirtieth anniversary of “Just Do It”, an ad aired in which controversial NFL player Colin Kaepernick played the leading role. The result: a dip of 3% on the stock market, followed by an increase of 31% in online purchases and a share on the stock exchange that reached a record high. Despite the American nature of the campaign, a worldwide discussion followed, with Twitter acting as the main platform. Together with our analysts, we analyzed data from the Media Monitor to measure the effect of the much discussed campaign.

It almost looks like a movie scenario. An American Footbal player from the NFL, who stands up against the oppression of black people by remaining crouched down while the national anthem plays. President Trump called him a traitor. The player, who led his team to the Super Bowl, is clubless and still one of the world’s biggest sports brands chooses this player as the face of a big campaign. “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” is the slogan of the brand’s latest campaign, with which Nike has been able to win the news in recent weeks.

Coloring outside the lines with a campaign

We see it more often; brands that color outside the lines. Campaigns on the edge of political or social discussions, almost forcing consumers to form an opinion and speak out. The campaignsare widely discussed and shared through various media, opinions are divided and the online discussion rages on. But how does this influence the world’s biggest brands?

Using the “Dream Crazy” campaign, Nike focuses primarily on young people in urban areas. ‘Coincidentally’ this is also the population group that is usually anti-Trump. So, in addition to taking a political standpoint, Nike has deliberately chosen to tailor their marketing message for their specific target group.

Media attention for the 'Dream Crazy' campaign

When we look at the online news coverage of the much-discussed campaign of the sports brand, we see that Twitter is the main source of discussion here, followed by news sites. The campaign is also so popular in various countries that even impactful, national media pay extensive attention to the issue.

A further look at the reputation of Nike

According to the latest research by The Reputation Institute (2017), Nike holds the 15th position in the top 100 most reputable organizations in the world. Organizations that meet stakeholder expectations within the 7 main reputation pillars receive significantly more support from their stakeholders. This concerns the pillars Products & Services, Innovation, Employment, Governance, CSR, Leadership and (Financial) performance.

The advantages of a strong or excellent reputation for these brands include:

  • more purchases;
  • recommendations;
  • crisis-proof;
  • verbal support;
  • investments.

Taking this specific campaign into account, we can say that Nike is crisis proof. There is a lot of verbal support for the campaign and the market value and (online) purchases have increased despite the commotion surrounding the campaign.


Online reputation management: to what extent has the 'Dream Crazy' campaign influenced Nike's online reputation?

Media coverage about Nike is much more pronounced than before the campaign was launched. The analysis below from our analyst Louelle Pesurnaij displays for each reputation pillar from The Reputation Institute what the effect of the campaign was on the reputation of Nike.


The image above shows the change in Nike’s overall reputation, measured by various reputation pillars. The small gauge shows the situation before the campaign (June 2018). The large indicators show the situation from the launch of the campaign.

Products & Services

In the area of ​​products and services, positive sentiment is driven by news media and individuals who support Nike and support the campaign. The negative sentiment is driven by supporters of the #JustBurnIt craze where people openly burned Nike products, which was a counter reaction to the Kaepernick campaign. Photos and videos of this were shared on social media.

(Financial) performance

The negative sentiment on this pillar is driven by financial reporting on the Nike shares, which dropped the first day after the campaign. A few days after the launch of the campaign, news outlets reported that Nike’s online sales were up by about 31%. This news had a positive impact on the reputation pillar (Financial) performance. Other positive publications that have influenced this reputation pillar explicitly mention boosted sales despite the controversial campaign.

No reputation damage for Nike

If we look specifically at insights from the Dutch media landscape, the Nike campaign has had a positive influence on the online reputation of the sports brand. Although negative sentiment about Nike has increased on the various reputation pillars, the positive sentiment exceeds the negative. We can conclude from this that the online reputation of Nike in the Netherlands has not been damaged by the launch of the much-discussed campaign.

The big question is of course: does a campaign such as this one provide an opportunity or a threat? As we mentioned earlier in this article, Nike is a big brand with a solid reputation, making them crisis proof in this case. A controversial campaign does not have a negative influence on the brand’s reputation, at least not in the long term.

American research by Global Strategy Group (2014) also shows that the majority of Americans consider it appropriate for companies to share their political beliefs, regardless of whether they are controversial or not. The political theme needs to have a close connection to the brand and organisations need to make sure they have a complete overview and understanding of what’s being said about this theme. This ensures you are well prepared for any potential crisis.

Nike is aware of what it’s all about: if you want to bind people, you have to choose their side.

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Linsey Jepma
As Content & PR Coordinator, I am involved in the wonderful world of webcare, chatbots, reputation management and data insights on a daily basis. Writing really is my thing and I have an inexplicable passion for neuromarketing and behaviour. Do you want to exchange thoughts? Connect with me at LinkedIn.

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