Both sides: Was Nike's decision to pull the 'Betsy Ross flag' sneaker the right move?

Did Nike need to do this? Arguments from both sides.

Photo credit: Getty Images
Photo credit: Getty Images

Nike has pulled a limited edition Air Max 1 sneaker decorated with an early version of the American flag, aka the Betsy Ross flag, from shelves. Why? Former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others said the flag is offensive because of its association with slavery in America.

Nike is facing another wave of criticism, with some people calling its decision to nix the shoes "unpatriotic" and pledging to #BoycottNike. On Tuesday morning, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey called the company’s decision "a shameful retreat" and said that the state will withhold incentives offered to the company for opening a manufacturing plant outside Phoenix.

Was Nike right to pull the sneaker? We asked two PR pros.

John Forberger, Forberger Communications: Nike was right to pull the shoes

Nike took a massive political stand with the 2018 Colin Kaepernick campaign and targeted their future consumers, not the buyers from the last 50 years. A significant change in their internal communications framework and at the C-suite level is certainly needed. I'd argue that today’s Nike's audience is perhaps more diverse than ever. Today's marketing campaigns and product releases, from brands of all sizes, must express diversity and display inclusion.

Somewhere in the planning meetings, I pray there were red flags raised by the marketing and Communication team at Nike. How did they overlook their consumer base and audience this much? That team sets the brand tone and communications framework, per online job descriptions. Nike reportedly raked in $6 billion-plus since the Kaepernick campaign from Wieden + Kennedy showing heroism as a theme (common Nike narrative). Kaepernick dramatically increased Nike's revenue, so they'll listen to their star campaign spokesperson here.

Even as someone who worked in Philadelphia blocks from the Betsy Ross house, I still can't support Nike’s decision to manufacture these sneakers. This type of dismissal to diversity is expected from a small indie shoe manufacturer, not a global apparel brand.

I'm sure many of the Nike flag sneakers, which made it to stores, will be on StockX soon fetching top dollar from sneaker heads.

Adam Ritchie, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction: Nike didn’t need to pull the shoes

The Revolutionary War flag is a symbol of independence. That's all Nike was trying to say. Anything else is reading too far into it. Even if they woke-checked alternate interpretations, it still should have been fine. On the era-to-era comparison, it's like saying The Monkees are an anti-abortion symbol because they were popular at a time when abortion was illegal.

Looking at how the flag has been used through time, most people didn't know it had been appropriated by white supremacist groups until today. By pulling the shoes, Nike drew attention to those groups, which gives them power and ultimately accomplishes the opposite of what the brand intended. A company shouldn’t allow the spokesperson for one remarkable campaign to become its spokesperson for life. You’re not always going to see eye-to-eye. The customer is always right, but opportunistic critics on the internet are not always right. Understand your audience. Have some perspective. Use your judgement.

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