Actions Must Match Words


In the age of authenticity, what you do matters as much as what you say. In order to be believable, credible, and trusted, you’ve got to walk the talk. The recent Nike campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick reminds us of that.

Nike’s decision to feature Kaepernick, an NFL player who chose to kneel during the playing of the National Anthem at NFL games as a protest against racial injustice, makes sense. The company is working on appealing to a younger demographic – a demographic that has proven to be socially active and politically aware. To that target audience, Nike’s actions match their mission: we support you, we support what you care about, and we’re not afraid to take a stance.

But another demographic views the latest Just Do It campaign through a different filter. Back in April, The New York Times revealed a pattern of sexual harassment and gender discrimination at the sports apparel company. And while the company is making strides to clean up its culture, older, female consumers, active in their own right and fed up with toxic workplaces, are more likely to view the Kaepernick ad as cool, but just an ad. Even the Serena Williams campaign, a series of feel good “I am woman hear me roar” videos, are more likely to generate trust and loyalty for the tennis star than for the shoe company because Serena Williams walks her talk. Nike? Hopefully. Of course, that older, female demographic isn’t Nike’s most important audience, so their marketing makes sense – as long as they understand they are fishing with a pole, not a net.

Gene Klann from the  Center for Creative Leadership says actions and attitude send powerful messages. That doesn’t mean brands and leaders must take bold steps and make grand gestures to earn trust. It means they should not make statements that their authentic actions don’t support. And they should behave in a way that back ups their words. An organization with an all, or mostly white, leadership team, should address their own structure before trying to help others address diversity. An expert, on any topic, should be prepared to address their own vulnerabilities and share their authentic learning, if they are going to give advice.  A leader, of any political party, cannot call out the opposition for behavior they too are guilty of.

And a brand must know who they want to reach, and align their values – and actions – in support of that audience. Nike’s done that, and given their consumer purchasing patterns, it was a good call. What they can’t expect, is that they can win over all consumers as a result.