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LATEST POST | 12 Dec 2018
AUTHOR | Julien Redmond

The intersection between Politics, Marketing and Data Science – understanding the Nike / Colin Kaepernick advertising decision

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Ok, so to start I want to lay it out there; I am not a Political Ideologue. As an Aussie, I keep an eye on American politics, and while I enjoy the show, I’m a data-guy at heart, and that’s what fascinates me about this story.

If you are not across the whole Colin Kaepernick thing, he was the first of the NFL Players to ‘take a knee’ for the National Anthem. The kneeling was a protest against perceived police brutality and the growing number of police shootings in the US. Taking this stand has cost him his career, he has effectively been black-balled. Despite his obvious talent, he has not been given a game with any team for almost two years – yet he maintains his beliefs and remains defiant even in the face of this immense pressure. 

Within the current political environment, kneeling during the National Anthem is a very divisive issue. Critics say Colin Kaepernick's gesture is 'unpatriotic' and disrespectful to the flag and to those who serve under it. 

Now, whichever side of the argument you come down on, what is interesting is the fuel that Nike has just thrown on the fire by teaming up with Kaepernick to produce a new advert. What makes this more interesting is the fact that Nike is the exclusive NFL uniform sponsor, across all 32 teams for an eight-year period. The financial details weren't released, but a similar deal with the NBA was worth a reported $1 billion – the point being, Nike has a lot of skin in the game here! 

If you have not seen the advert yet, then you can see it here and judge for yourself.

The advert has created a visceral response from right-wing Americans, and social media is ablaze (excuse the pun) with protesters literally setting fire to their Nike Merchandise. 

So, on the face of things, it looks like Nike has alienated a large proportion of their potential base. And that they have made a huge mistake that will cost them sales and ultimately damage their stock price. Yet, dig a little deeper, understand the data they are working with, and you will see that all is not as it first appears.

What we have here is a fascinating intersection between politics, marketing and data science.

Nike has been a data-gatherer for a long time. Like most large corporations they are not just collecting your primary contact and geo-data, but your preferences, lifestyle and political leanings. As with all companies, the purpose of this data collection is to better understand their customers wants, desires and in this case aspirations and politics.

So, going back to our angry shoe burners, who are they. Well in the current political environment they are predominately the hardcore Trumpists (a subset of Republicans). Now let’s break that down so we can see why it’s crucial; 31% of Americans identified as Democrat, 24% identified as Republican, and 42% as Independent.

The hardcore, or far-right leaning element of the Republican Party, represents a 30% segment of the overall 24% of Republicans. And their demographic tends to be older (40 years+) and predominantly white males. 

Nike with their corpus of customer data knows who buys their shoes. They know their political leanings and aspirations. Nike already understands how their core demographic (25 years and below) view the issues of police violence and inequality. And how their views differ from older generations who may oppose aligning with a controversial figure such as Kaepernick. In fact, statistical polling suggests that around 85% of individuals within the ≤25 years demographic aspire to social reform.

When you combine the data, with the politics and the marketing genius, you get a better understanding of what Nike is doing here. They are being deliberately divisive and stoking controversy amongst a demographic that they don’t care much about. 

All the videos of shoe burring and outrage are money in the bank for Nike. This week, every news outlet in the world will be carrying this story, the social media channels are in overdrive, and every angry tweet, each word written, or shoe set ablaze is just more free publicity for Nike and ultimately more sales.

Heck – they have even got a random Aussie data-guy writing articles about them!

Now you may admire the savvy political science or the beautiful marketing wrapper but, what made this all possible was the data. 

The data completely de-risked what at first sight seemed a dangerous strategy. Nike knew their customers; they knew who they were but, more importantly, what they aspired too. And they then leveraged the depth of understanding that they had of their customer base to create a campaign explicitly aligned to them. 

Nike's deep customer understanding did not happen by accident. It took more than merely stockpiling data. Organisations that put in place the process to govern and manage their data will always win. They can tilt the playing field to their advantage, knowing the results of their decision (however seemingly controversial) before any actions are taken, or a single dollar is spent.

To create a successful data strategy, you must start with stewardship, ensuring that you address the organisational structures, processes and cultures that support basic information management principles and allow you to keep your data clean. By just promoting a minimum practice of information classification upfront, to capture basics like the source, owner and intended purpose, you can ensure your data maintains its integrity and can be used to unlock insights at a later date.

If you get this right, you can start to build effective data-driven strategies that will deliver both differentiation and competitive advantage for your organisation.

Perhaps it’s time to follow Nike’s example and do something seemingly controversial about your data?

Come and have a chat with us about how Data Vault 2.0 can unlock the power of your data and give you a stable platform to build data-driven business decision making.

If you would like to hear more about how your business can unlock the potential of its' data, then drop me a chat message or a comment below. 

We also have a new TechView article written by Daniel Linstedt, the inventor of Data Vault 2.0 which is a fascinating read. Download it here



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