74 FASTCOMPANY.COM FEBRUARY 2019
On September 3, 2018, at 2: 20 p.m., an image appeared on Instagram: a
tightly cropped black-and-white close-up of a face, eyebrows, and chin bordering
a resolute gaze, and the message “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” You know what I’m talking about. That ad.
Nike’s Colin Kaepernick spot was more than just an ad. By centering a campaign around the controversial quarterback, the company was making a bold
statement in defense of the banished NFL star’s career-ending protest against
racial injustice. The reaction was explosive and immediate. Celebrities, consumers, pro athletes, activists, and the president of the United States all weighed in.
Welcome to Hot Take City, Population: the Internet. Brand suicide! Brand bravery!
Buying more Nikes! Lighting Nikes on fire! Even those skeptical of Nike making
a social justice claim, given its own issues regarding gender discrimination and
factory conditions over the past year, had to admit this was marketing at its very
best. Advertising as agitator, the popcorn of pop culture.
This moment may have felt like an instance of spontaneous combustion, but the seed for it had been planted 30 years earlier, when the ad agency
Wieden+Kennedy, working for Nike, galvanized a consumer/social movement
with the phrase “Just Do It.”
A BRIEF HISTORY OF W+K WORK
Get thee to You Tube to see these ad spots.
NIKE, “IF YOU LET
An anthem for female
athletes, as young
the positive power
NIKE, “IS IT THE
When Spike met Mike.
ESPN, “THIS IS
Pro sports meets The
Office. This long-running campaign made
the cubicles of ESPN
look like the funniest
Directed by Errol
Morris, these ads are
still considered a
high-water mark in wry
A Rube Goldberg
that became one of the
most awarded commercials of all time.
HEINEKEN, “BEER RUN”
Director David Fincher
presents an action-packed vision of what
might happen when
a Hollywood superstar
like Brad Pitt
runs out of beer.