Eric Risberg, Associated Press
Palm trees frame a large billboard on top of a Nike store that shows former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick at Union Square, Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018, in San Francisco. An endorsement deal between Nike and Colin Kaepernick prompted a flood of debate Tuesday as sports fans reacted to the apparel giant backing an athlete known mainly for starting a wave of protests among NFL players of police brutality, racial inequality and other social issues.

Whether or not you agree with Colin Kaepernick, the new ad featuring his face for Nike has your attention.

Advertisers figured out a long time ago how to leverage emotion to make a buck. Politicians generally use fear. Consumer products like Coke and MacDonald’s appeal to the core emotion of belonging or friendship. Luxury brands appeal to ego. And Nike has moved from the be your best self slogan of “Just Do It” to turning up the heat on controversy in order to transfer loyalty to its brand. It’s all to make a buck, and Phil Knight sees it all as a high stakes shell game: What will people pay attention to next? From Tiger Woods' integrity to this latest stint selling lemonade as a neighborhood burns down.

With all the talk of boycotting Nike, sales are up 31 percent. This was absolutely no surprise to Knight. He knows how to sell shoes. He knows the country is at odds with itself and that youths will be drawn to the angry voices of anarchy. Give them their martyr and watch sales rise. Calculated. Cold. Brilliant. And without conscience. Phil Knight is the Che Guevara of capitalism. All morals are sacrificed to the state of profit.

People buy, vote and demonstrate with their hearts. And sometimes their hearts are misinformed by their emotions. Sometimes revolutionary hearts wane and lose courage. They need an awakening. They need the image of a martyred icon to stir their outrage. It’s not political, it’s business. And we see it all the time: Create a false sense of doom to sell everything from gold to generators to homeland security. Cash in on empathy for the earth by putting the word “green” on your product. Leverage overblown health scares about pesticides and herbicides by labeling everything from vegetables to T-shirts as “organic.”

16 comments on this story

This isn’t to say that there aren’t real issues of police brutality, E. coli and overflowing landfills. We should be engaged in making our planet better for all humanity by addressing violence, natural resources and corrupt political processes. But when the issues become commoditized, they end up on the shelf with an expiration date.

Tomorrow morning I’ll go for a run wearing a Nike T-shirt because I like the fabric. I’ll have organic toast for breakfast because it has more fiber and I’ll read the newspaper online, without ads so I’m not distracted by the hysterical pitches of ad men who have grown increasingly desperate to sell me something I don’t need.