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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Nike and Vick: Redemption or Commercialism?

It's often said that America loves a comeback story. But the announcement by Nike on the eve of the 4th of July weekend that it has re-hired NFL quarterback and convicted felon Michael Vick to a multi-year contract has a great deal of risks. It's already the subject of intense debate in the blogosphere and in corporate boardrooms. (Note the range of comments to the story in Ad Age). We'll assume that Nike talked this over a great deal before jumping in.

What Nike's decision eventually communicates about brand marketing and reputation will likely be studied for years. From a communications standpoint, we at CommCore find Nike's challenges to be fascinating. If we were advising Nike, here are the concerns that we would raise:

• The decision has already spawned a "boycott Nike" Facebook page. Others may follow. Nike will have to monitor the evolution of the movement and decide whether to let it be, and hopefully pass, or respond.

• Nike will have to be prepared for the potential ramifications if (a) Vick slips up again and commits another "inhumane and abhorrent" act – the words used by Nike when the company quickly voided his earlier contract in 2007 upon his arrest for involvement in the dog-fighting ring – or (b) if the endorsement doesn't generate sales and turns out to harm the brand.

• Consistent messaging by Nike that balances the "feel good" redemption and "crass" commercialism angles the story will undoubtedly generate will be essential if Nike is to come out of this looking good.

How do you see Nike's communications challenges in the wake of the decision to re-sign Vick? Can you draw on any parallels for lessons learned?

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