It's tough for big corporate brands in this age of "culture war".

Do you pick a side and risk a backlash by offending half your customer base?

Or do you stay silent and risk the ire of others by implicitly endorsing the politically dominant view?

In what looks like one of the biggest branding calls of the Donald Trump presidency – Nike has picked a side.


The sportswear giant has chosen Colin Kaepernick, the first NFL player to kneel during the national anthem as a protest against racism, as one of the faces for advertisements commemorating the 30th anniversary of its "Just Do It" slogan.

Capitalism often seems brutal and inhuman. We all know about the inequality it can create.

But sometimes, in its own self-interested way, it can reveal a democratic streak that's more representative than the electoral system.

This looks like one of those moments.

Kaepernick certainly "just did it". He has been front and centre of a cultural war in the US.

His kneeling anthem protests address the ongoing issue of racial inequality and police brutality.

Protesters take the knee in a show of support for Colin Kaepernick. Photo / Getty Images
Protesters take the knee in a show of support for Colin Kaepernick. Photo / Getty Images

They have been described as disrespectful by US President Donald Trump who called on the NFL to sack him and ban players from taking the knee.

"If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem," Trump tweeted. "If not, YOU'RE FIRED. Find something else to do!"

Many Americans agree and do not want to see politics in their sporting arenas.

The issue has been deeply divisive so we can assume the decision by Nike to use Kaepernick so prominently has not been taken lightly.

They have had him on their books for two years but have not used him in promotions. This week they finally made a call – and in doing so picked a side.

"We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward," Gino Fisanotti, Nike's vice-president of brand for North America, told ESPN.

Well, as much as Nike will want to talk about making a decision based on values you can bet that they have done the math.

The company will have modelled the numbers and assessed the risk of potential backlash from consumers who support Trump and dislike Kaepernick.

The good news for those troubled by the rise of ultra-conservative nationalism in US politics is that Nike is betting that a majority of their consumers will stick with them and they will weather any backlash.

It has a made a bold call. It may be that it is ultimately pragmatic and self-interested. If so then that in itself is heartening.