After Nike’s groundbreaking 30th anniversary Just Do It campaign launched last September with Colin Kaepernick as its star, the brand received blowback from some consumers who were not happy it featured the controversial former San Francisco 49ers quarterback.
However, it appears the risk was worth it. In Q2 2018, following the ad, Nike reported a 10% jump in net profit to $847 million. But the ad would have never happened without Nigel Powell. Before the ad aired, Nike came close to cutting Kaepernick from its roster of athletes in summer 2017 after he began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games to protest racism, social inequality and police brutality, thus igniting a national discourse.
Powell stepped in and "went ballistic" at the suggestion of firing Kaepernick, warning that the company would face a backlash from the young consumers it covets, according to The New York Times.
Nike continues to push boundaries and support others who have broken barriers. During the Academy Awards this year, the brand debuted an ad starring tennis champion Serena Williams who narrates the ad through a script that redefines the label "crazy," which is often applied negatively to women in sport. Other athletes featured in the ad include gymnast Simone Biles, fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and snowboarder Chloe Kim.
Not every brand can take on such bold issues and sustain criticism. Nike is able to due to the reputation it has built up. And Powell has been supporting the brand for 20 years, working at Nike in various roles since January 1999, stepping into his most recent position in January 2018.