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Controversy by Survey?

I grew up in a little town in the San Francisco East Bay called Lafayette.


In those days it was little more than a suburban bump in the road: couple of bars, a drugstore with a fountain counter, a barbershop, movie theater (admission: $.25), a pizza parlor and lots of vacant fields full of walnut trees. And there was a gas station at the main intersection in town, owned by the grand nephew of Wild Bill Hickok. I would ride by on my bicycle. Old man Hickok with his long white hair could be seen in the office, head to his chest dozing. Even as a ten-year-old, I would be washed with a certain sense of history.


That gas station has since been replaced by a UPS store and Lafayette is a booming upscale municipality now filled with young professionals with families and three-bedroom ranch homes built in the 50s that sell for $1 million today.


If one took the narrow two-lane road out of the back part of town, up and over the small country hills, you would run into a small village called Moraga. Situated up against those soft rolling hills, was St. Mary’s College, a Catholic University of some renowned.




In the summer months, when I was 10 or 11, my younger brother and I would ride our bikes out of town, along the 2 Lane country road that followed a creek full of bullfrogs and water snakes, to St. Mary’s College where the San Francisco 49ers conducted their preseason training.


We would sit on the grass along with the few other kids who had made it out there and watch the Niners practice. Few readers of this article will recognize the names of the leading 49ers of the day, but YA Tittle was the quarterback (John Brodie was a rookie); running backs were the great Hugh McElhenny, Joe The JetPerry and John Henry Johnson. Referred to as “The Million Dollar Backfield.”


I share a bit of detail on this part of my life, so you know that my Niners roots run deep.


I have followed their ups and downs for decades – in more recent years bathed in the glory years of Montana and Rice andthe quiet years that followed.


After a decade of doldrums, spirits were lifted again when, in 2012, Colin Kaepernick lead the Niners to the NFC championship and to the Superbowl. They lost the Superbowl but Kaepernick’s arm held strong promise for the future.


But it was not to be.


In 2016, Kaepernick started his social justice protests, including taking a knee at the playing of the national anthem and wearing socks that depicted police as pigs.


The political debate that arose around his acts was a microcosmof the growing political division in the country.


The controversy continued to rage throughout 2016 and beyond.Kaepernik continued to take a knee and “The Movement” grew as some other players from other teams began to kneel in support.


While some public comment was supportive, more sports fans seemed to object not just to his message, but where he was pushing it. It’s not news that minorities have experienced unconscionable abuse of their civil rights at the hands of some inlaw enforcement. Sadly, Rodney King was not an isolated incident. But they don’t have a monopoly. Look at the egregious civil rights abuses perpetrated over the last few years on specificgovernment individuals as well as the general public by the most senior law enforcement personnel in the nation – Comey, Strzok, Page, and McCabe.


We thought that kind of covert abuse of power by senior law enforcement had gone out with Hoover. Turns out FBI Director Comey lied and leaked and targeted innocent Americans with illegal government surveillance.


I’m not trying to make a political point here. I’m seeking to make a PR point as you’ll see.


So, while Kaepernik had his points to make, the objection was tothe forum in which he made them and the disrespect for the flag and painting with this broad, politically charged brush by calling all cops pigs.


In his Angela Davis afro and Bobby Seale rhetoric, he was a throwback to the radical of the 6s.



The protests continued. And then in May 2017 Kaepernik, who was going to be released by the 49ers, opted out of his contract and became a free agent.


You’d think that would have put an end to Kaepernik’s career, and it did as a far as his professional football career. But a little more than a year later, Nike surprised the sports world by signing Kaepernik to an advertising deal, making him the face of their “Just Do It” campaign.



And this is the point of this article… you never know until you survey.


There was an instant backlash. People took to burning their Nike shoes. And the stock took a short dip. And I was feeling vindicated because, I thought this had been a foolish PR moveon Nike’s part. “What are they doing?” I thought.


I hadn’t really paid attention to the fact that Kaepernik had been on the cover of Time magazine the month after he first “Took a Knee?”



Or the fact that he had been GQ’s Citizen of the year in 2017.

He was a hero to many who saw him as a person of integrity. And let’s face it, good, bad or indifferent, Colin Kaepernik is a man who stands (or kneels) for the things in which he believes.


Not only did Nike’s sales not crash, they increased a stunning33%!


I’ve been working in the field of marketing and PR and surveys therefore for three decades and if I had been asked by Nike’s Director of Marketing and PR, I would have nixed that deal. But that was unsurveyed opinion. And, as it turns out, dead wrong.


Nike marketing is nothing if not intensely customer value focused. They survey everything. And you can bet that they did not make that decision without surveys and research data.

“Seventy-eight percent of respondents who self-identify as liberal want brands to take a stand, while just about half (52 percent) of respondents who self-identify as conservative feel the same,” Sprout Social found.

“The fact that liberals are a lot more interested in companies getting political no doubt made Nike’s decision even easier. As sports industry analyst Matt Powell noted in a tweet (hat tip to Business Insider): “Old angry white guys are not a core demographic for Nike.”

The company’s customers skew younger, urban, and liberal, so angering conservatives is probably only going to win Nike increased loyalty.”



My opinion was just that, an unsurveyed opinion.


Nike knew exactly what it was doing.


The campaign has been a success.


Readers of these articles may remember the story I told some time ago about the time we conducted recruit surveys for the Ministry of Internal Affairs in Russia and found that the main reason people joined the police in Moscow was to get free transportation on the metro.


My whole point here is that you don’t really know until you survey until you check the public’s buttons and/or opinions with the survey. Otherwise, you could be marketing using buttons and copy that don’t actually parallel your public’s mind.


And that can affect sales and income.


Your advertising dollars are hard won and valuable. Make sure they  are used to say what they should.


If you need to pin this down, call us. We’ll find out exactly what is the mind of your public and help you increase sales and income.


Hi Bruce,

This is a great report The flow was nice and all of our requested analysis / direction was addressed in the report[using the surveyed information] we conducted some guerilla marketing in Charlotte’s most affluent areas and have received ~ 50 calls.  In fact, we had to take up the signs in 4 days due to having to find a couple more teachers for our staff.

We also upped our price points a bit to match those Atlanta averages


Best regards,