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Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad sparked a boycott — and earned $6 billion for Nike

The Kaepernick “gamble” has turned into a big win.

Nike’s Kapernick ad
Nike’s Colin Kaepernick ad.
Alex Abad-Santos is a senior correspondent who explains what society obsesses over, from Marvel and movies to fitness and skin care. He came to Vox in 2014. Prior to that, he worked at the Atlantic.

The boycott against Nike for making Colin Kaepernick the face of its latest ad campaign doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

According to CBS, Nike’s stock has soared over the past year, seeing a 5 percent increase since Labor Day — the day it revealed that Kaepernick, the former quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, was the star of company’s 30th-anniversary “Just Do It” campaign.

Kaepernick appeared in a TV spot and a print ad championing a riff on the Nike slogan: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything. Just Do It.” The sacrifice in question is a reference to Kaepernick’s kneeling protests against police brutality before NFL games. (Kaepernick is currently suing the NFL for allegedly colluding to keep him out of the league over the protests.)

Though Kaepernick and other NFL players who have kneeled during the national anthem before NFL games have maintained that their protest is about police brutality resulting in the deaths of unarmed black Americans, that hasn’t stopped their critics — including President Donald Trump — from claiming that Kaepernick and his colleagues are disrespecting the American flag.

In response to Nike’s decision to center its campaign — which also features stars like Serena Williams and LeBron James — on Kaepernick, some people have decided to boycott the company. In some cases, those people have performatively destroyed their Nike gear on social media. But the $6 billion increase in overall value that Nike has experienced since Labor Day clearly overshadows their efforts (though to be clear, the US Open — which concluded about a week after the ad was released — and the official start of the NFL season have been known to drive Nike sales too).

Though the country is divided over Kaepernick’s protests — both by race and by partisanship, according to an NBC/WSJ poll in August — Kaepernick is still a merchandise-selling machine. Sales of jerseys bearing his name have been among the league’s most popular even though he hasn’t played in two years, and Reuters reported last week that Nike’s Kaepernick women’s jersey had sold out.

With its post-Labor Day payout, Nike’s choice to build its brand around Kaepernick, what he stands for, and all the politics that come with it looks less and less like a risk and more like a surefire win.