Colin Kaepernick Nike Ad 0903
Washington CNN  — 

“Just do it” isn’t just for sports anymore.

The Nike slogan is one of the most widely recognized brand slogans in America. For years it’s helped sell sneakers and evoked a sense of athletic excellence, and now, it’s a political slogan too.

To mark the slogan’s 30th anniversary, Nike released a Colin Kaepernick ad Monday, ahead of the NFL season opener Thursday. The ad is a hit, racking up more than 1 million likes across Kaepernick’s Twitter and Instagram accounts in its first day (Nike has yet to post it to their main Instagram account, but did retweet Kaepernick’s tweet).

It’s been reposted by fellow athletes and activists, inspired memes and prompted critics to destroy their Nike merchandise. President Donald Trump said Tuesday the ad sent “a terrible message” and he disagreed with it, but acknowledged Nike was free to do as it wished. “It is what this country is all about, that you have certain freedoms to do things that other people think you shouldn’t do,” he told the Daily Caller.

The ad has received more than $43 million worth of media exposure in its first day, Apex Marketing Group found, according to Bloomberg.

Though it’s one of the most explicit examples of Nike weighing in on protests during the anthem over racial injustice in the NFL, the ad was preceded by Nike’s “Equality” campaign. Launched in 2017, that campaign focused on how sports can break down barriers and starred athletes including LeBron James and Serena Williams.

The campaign has been used to promote equality for female and LGBT athletes, but it especially had a focus on racial equality. Nike released a special Black History Month line of “Equality” products, and some of the black athletes who’ve worn “Equality” shoes, like James and the Washington Mystics’ Kristi Toliver, have been vocal about political and social issues outside of just their footwear.

The Kaepernick ad takes the sentiments of Nike’s “Equality” campaign and applies it to one of the most divisive topics in political culture today. It serves as a link between the fight for equality and the protests Kaepernick started, and it leverages one of the brand’s most durable and iconic assets into a new and much more controversial area.

“Just do it” has lasted three decades in part because of its universality. It can be applied to casual joggers and elite athletes alike. In the case of Kaepernick, who hasn’t played professional football since 2016, it’s applied to him as an activist. Pairing the slogan with the ad’s copy – “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” – transforms the “it” of “Just do it” from touchdowns or workouts into standing up for one’s beliefs.

The move suggests Nike customers will be OK with the company taking a side over the controversial protests. It’s not without risk, however, with the price of Nike stock falling Tuesday. But at a time when a number of high-profile athletes are unwilling to “shut up and dribble,” Nike is positioning itself as a brand for them and their fans, and expanding the aspirations of “Just do it” from the the field, court, and track to politics, even if that means losing some sports fans in the process.