Nike, the NFL and Next Wave Ethical Investing | Counting the Cost (Feature)

As big brands continue their push to expand global markets, companies like Nike are tailoring their ads to themes of ethics and corporate and social responsibility. Nike’s most recent “Just Do It” campaign features a close-up of the National Football League (NFL) quarterback and activist, Colin Kaepernick, known for his refusal to stand for the American national anthem before the start of a handful of NFL games in 2016.

The ad reads: “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” in a possible reference to Kaepernick’s decision to kneel rather than stand during the anthem, a decision which he says he made in protest against racial inequality in the United States.

His activism drew the ire, on Twitter, of President Trump and of fans who saw it as disrespectful to the American flag and military. While many supported Kaepernick’s civil disobedience as an expression of free speech, others walked out of the stands in counter-protest. Kaepernick claims that NFL owners have been blocking him and he hasn’t played a single NFL game since the 2016 season.

In the meantime, Nike saw a way to capitalise on the controversy.

Following the Kaepernick Just Do It campaign, the sporting goods company saw an increase in their online sales. Though the exact cause of the spike in sales cannot be verified, the company went on to announce a new catalogue of Kaepernick shoes and t-shirts.

It was a shrewd move, says sports branding expert, Dean Crutchfield:

“To my take, there’s going to be a rallying cry to support Nike for what it’s done, because it’s bold, it’s brave, it has risks. We want that from brands, we expect that from brands and Nike is the kind of brand where you demand it to be on the edge all of the time.”

Financial experts, meantime, have been closely watching the growing number of investors who are choosing to put their money into socially responsible companies, a practice known as ESG, or Environmental, Social and Governance investing.

According to Triodos Bank, nearly half of 18 to 34 year-olds in the UK currently plan to invest in socially responsible funds. Popular with millennials and those looking to make their investments count for improvements in clean environmental practices, the ethical treatment of employees and good corporate governance, ESG is the next stage from previous generations who chose to de-favor or dis-invest in so-called “sin stocks”, i.e. stocks related to weapons manufacturing, alcohol, gambling and cigarettes.

Patrick Connelly, a chartered financial planner with Chase de Vere, an independent financial advice company, says that ESG investors tend to be more actively involved than ethically minded investors in the past and that investment companies are increasingly looking to ESG to diversify portfolios.

“We’re on a journey now from excluding companies that we don’t like to investing in companies we do like and who are adopting the right approaches… as more money goes into these funds, and as millennials gain more wealth, shareholders and group shareholders will have more influence…what that means is that perhaps there’s more money behind that approach and perhaps more influence that these companies will have when they’re dealing with companies they’re investing into.”

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