Doubling down on nationwide controversy, a boycott by some fans, and criticism from President Donald Trump, Nike on Wednesday released a full-length commercial featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
The TV spot, slated to air directly before the NFL season starts on Thursday, features women athletes, a disabled youngster, a reference to refugees, and people from various races. The aim of the campaign — which celebrates 30 years of Nike's iconic "Just Do It" mantra — is to reach a younger generation, Nike said; consumers who are likely more supportive of Kaepernick's activism than the typical NFL viewer.
Kaepernick became part of a national debate in 2016 when he started to sit out the National Anthem at the start of his team's games. He explained his demonstration was to protest "a country that oppresses black people and people of color." Several more athletes followed his example, and the Take a Knee protest swiftly became a hotly debated sticking point for the controversy-averse NFL.
While the latest commercial does not make mention of Kaepernick's infamous stance, it is a call to excellence at the highest levels, featuring celebrity athletes such as Serena Williams and LeBron James, as well as lesser-known players such as MLS star Alphonso Davies, who was born in a refugee camp in Ghana after his parents fled civil war in Liberia.
"If you are born a refugee, don't let it stop you from playing soccer for the national team, at age 16," says Kaepernick in the ad's voiceover.
Jeff Carvalho, managing director for North America at Highsnobiety, a media publisher covering youth trends and pop culture, told NBC News that Nike has "tried to wrap in a picture of what America is today. Not every athlete is your traditional hero. Our new heroes are not your traditional giant superstars anymore. Today's youth consumers see that."
Prior to the release of the new TV spot, President Trump tweeted his distaste for the campaign, saying "Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?"
Nike stock is up 30 percent year on year, and posted a gain of almost 1 percent by mid-afternoon Wednesday.