The initial controversy over Nike’s “Believe in Something” ad ignited all kinds of viral emotions, debates, and boycotts, then ended up skyrocketing the company’s value by $6 Billion. Let’s take a moment to remove personal and political opinions and talk about the strategy they used to hog our attention.

Our society is over-stimulated with entertainment, advertisements, and media, and even well-crafted, high-budget campaigns are having a harder time catching our attention and stirring up emotion – much less, convincing us to “get involved.” We’ve grown numb to the emotions they used to evoke, and any “beauty”, “happiness”, or “desire” for better things is lost in a sea of competing demands for 10 seconds of our attention.

Enter, controversy.

Politics are a hot button for most conversation starters, and one you typically press only amongst like-minded friends. Nike used a calculated, controversial angle to push our emotional “hot button,” and boy, did they get our attention!

Why so much controversy around this Nike ad?

1. It evoked emotions that forced people to have an opinion, which forces you to chose a side, and then [strongly] disagree with anyone who differs in opinion. Getting people emotionally involved is a #priceless – albeit, difficult – marketing strategy to perfect. Nike nailed it!

2. Strong opinions make us want to “take action.” Another beautiful strategy, but in this case, the desired “action” was to “talk about it and raise controversy.” Have you ever heard that saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”? You’re reading about Nike right now. They won!

Is this a good long-term strategy?

Time will tell, but Nike is already seeing an unprecedented surge in sales, stock value, internet searches, web traffic, and social media followers and mentions. While it’s risky to deliver a polarizing message, if it gets your message to go viral, the free media exposure may very well be worth any backlash you’ll face.

Nike wasn’t the first to try this tactic. Remember the 2017 Kendall Jenner / Pepsi ad we all had to talk about? Did you know Carl’s Jrs’ CEO said the controversial “Put it in my Mouth” campaign saved them from obsoletion? What about our most recent presidential election?

Controversy = attention. Attention = priceless.

I predict we’ll see more brands trying to “push our hot buttons” in their advertising campaigns. What better way to get people to “join the discussion”?


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