As protests about the murder of Minneapolis’ George Floyd spread through the country, Nike appears to be the first brand to weigh in. Its new film turns its decades-old slogan on its head: “For once, don't do It,” it says.
The one-minute video, released on Twitter, YouTube and other digital channels, uses all-white text on a black background, set to somber piano music. “Don’t pretend there’s not a problem in America,” it tells viewers. “Don’t turn your back on racism. Don’t accept innocent lives being taken from us. Don’t make any more excuses.”
Within hours, the spot was being shared widely by Nike teams and athletes. Paul Wentworth, director of new business at Nike agency Wieden + Kennedy’s London office, tweeted that the spot is “maybe the most important piece of work we’ve ever done.”
Social-media outrage over the killing has been building for days, as protests related to Floyd’s murder on Monday, May 25, expanded to such cities as Atlanta; Houston; San Jose, California, and Washington D.C. On Friday, police arrested Derek Chauvin, one of the former police officers involved in Floyd’s death, charging him with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
While this spot might be Nike’s strongest statement yet, the Beaverton, Oregon-based marketer is no stranger to hot-button racial issues. In 2018, it released its polarizing “Dream Crazy” campaign with ex-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Many fans who objected to Kaepernick’s outspoken views on racial injustice and police brutality boycotted the brand. But Nike weathered that storm and quickly went on to record sales, earning market share.
In early 2017, following the divisive presidential election, Nike launched a campaign called “Equality has no boundaries,” also in black and white. (That one was set to Alicia Keys performing Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem, “Change is gonna come.”) It featured Nike athletes LeBron James and Serena Williams, and reminded viewers that “opportunity should not discriminate, and the ball should bounce the same for everyone.”
While Nike seems to be the first national brand to weigh in with creative related to the unrest, Target addressed the protests when it announced the closure of some stores in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. “We are heartbroken by the death of George Floyd and the pain it is causing our community,” it said.
By Friday afternoon, Target had announced it was committed to rebuilding the store heavily damaged in the uprising and that it was providing “immediate first aid, food and basic essentials to the community,” as well as engaging with community leaders “to support local families as the community heals.”