What Brands Can Learn from Sneakergate

Feb 28, 2019 • Aaron Goldman

When Duke basketball phenom Zion Williamson was injured due to a sneaker malfunction in a recent game, the ramifications extended beyond the court and sent ripples through the marketing world.

The reactions ranged from doomsday predictions for Nike to conspiracy theories that it’s all an elaborate setup for a future campaign. My friend Rock even scripted a Nike ad that ends with the tagline, “It’s not about how hard you fall, it’s about how fast you get back up.”

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Indeed, Nike has had a good run recently casting athletes in commercials with purpose-driven messaging. There’s the Colin Kaepernick spot with the call-to-action, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” And the newest one features Serena Williams addressing gender stereotypes before proclaiming, “It’s only crazy until you do it.”

Time well tell what impact sneakergate has on the Nike brand and its ability to sign Zion to a lucrative sponsorship deal when he joins the NBA. But now is a great time to reflect on the decision-making process for celebrity endorsements.

As I wrote in Adweek, “The key for brands is understanding their customers and ensuring that core values are aligned with athletes’ personas.” 4C’s Brand Compass tool is an invaluable resource for assessing the values that each brand’s audience holds dear.

When the Kaepernick campaign launched we noted that racial equality was at the top of the list for Nike based on social affinity. In terms of interests, sports news is in the top 5 which means that this shoesplosion could help Nike transcend #JustBlewIt into the annals of #JustDoIt lore.
Brand Compass insights for Nike
The biggest question is how Zion will choose to use his platform once he gets to the professional level. The challenge for brands competing to sign a sponsorship deal is that they’ll have to commit to a long-term contract for Zion without knowing how he will develop off-the-court and which values he will support. Perhaps it will be s self-fulfilling prophecy and Zion will adopt the values exhibited by the brand he signs with. Wouldn’t that be a fine case of the shoe on the other foot?

Now it’s time for the other shoe to drop with the rest of 4C’s Insights.

Get the rest of 4C’s Insights Volume 148 here.