America’s love of Nike transcends all boycotts

Nike’s recalled sneakers.
Nike’s recalled sneakers.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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Since news broke that Nike had recalled a Fourth of July sneaker featuring an early American flag, some voices on the political right have been calling for a boycott, Texas senator Ted Cruz among them.

Nike had pulled the shoes from sale, according to the Wall Street Journal, after former football star and current Nike endorser Colin Kaepernick voiced concern that the so-called Betsy Ross flag on the back of the shoe represented an era when slavery was accepted. Nike clarified that its recall was meant to avoid giving offense, but it still led to allegations of Nike bowing to an absurd political correctness, or at worst, being anti-American.

Whether or not anyone believes that, though, Nike will be just fine. Boycotts tend not to work well much of the time, and the reality is that, despite the current uproar, Americans love Nike.

Nike faced similar criticisms last September when it unveiled its controversial ad with Kaepernick, who himself was accused of being anti-American for his decision to kneel for the US national anthem during NFL games, in protest of police violence against black Americans. There were calls for Nike boycotts then too.

How did that turn out? Not only did the protest not halt Nike’s rebound in North America, but since then Nike’s growth has accelerated. (Nike doesn’t break out sales for the US separately, but it contributes the great majority of sales in the region.)

For decades at this point, more Americans have chosen to buy their sneakers from Nike than any other company. Though it has endured its scandals over the years, such as the child-labor revelations of the 1990s, consumers still primarily associate Nike with sneaker culture (Quartz membership exclusive) and star athletes such as Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and LeBron James. Its audience of loyal, engaged customers is the sort that other brands envy.

Among young Americans in particular, who happen to be Nike’s core customers, it consistently ranks among their most beloved brands. Teens picked Nike as their favorite footwear brand and their favorite clothing brand, both by a wide margin, in the latest edition (pdf) of investment firm Piper Jaffray’s biannual “Taking Stock With Teens” survey. In Business Insider’s new survey on Gen Z, it found more in the cohort had bought from Nike than any other clothing or footwear brand. Among brands that Gen Z loves, it said, “Nike is a standout.”

The company has aligned itself with a progressive view of America that celebrates the country’s diversity. Even if it has fallen short of backing up that image at times, particularly on gender issues recently, many shoppers recognize Nike’s intention in recalling its Fourth of July sneakers. Americans might side (paywall) with its choice. They might find it silly. Some might be offended. But on the whole, they aren’t likely to stop buying Nike sneakers.