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How Far Will You Take Your Protest?

Fifty years ago, women took to the streets, burning their bras in protest, refusing to stay silent any longer. I was too young to participate in 1968, but like to believe that I would have been one of those protesters. Regardless, I'm forever grateful for the opportunities opened up to my generation, the first to really feel the impact from those that made their voices heard.

Bras came off, most put them back on, yet what that protest stood for cannot be erased and has had a ripple effect on younger generations like mine. Hopefully, as is evidence of late with the #metoo movement and the number of women winning elections, our voices will continue to roar.

Last week, Nike roared with a new ‘Just Do It’ 30th anniversary ad narrated by Colin Kaepernick. To me, it’s bold, creative, inspirational, and makes a clear statement. It’s one of those ads that as a writer, storyteller, and strategist, I wish I had come up with.

"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything," the ad says.

BAM. It got me thinking about what, if anything, I believe in so deeply that I’d be willing to sacrifice everything for… and days later, I’m still thinking … and wondering if, in fact, I’m courageous enough to take such a strong stand on anything…

Of course, there’s outrage over the ad by some and celebration by others because of the controversy around what Colin stands, or rather, knelt for.

Nike is a billion-dollar brand with the best-of-the-best creative and business minds at their fingertips. Based on my years of marketing experience, I believe they knew exactly what they were doing and how incendiary this ad would be but had no reason to dilute the message for fear of financial, perception, or negative reputation repercussions. They knew they'd come out the other side better than fine.

One person burns what they’ve already bought, another one buys.

So far it’s reported that Nike received more than $163 million in free TV, radio, online, and social media exposure. Yeah, they knew exactly what they were doing. Nike's stock dipped for a hot minute but now the company is with a healthy return. As of the other day, online sales went up over 30% since the ad debuted. They're making a ton of money; Nike and Kaepernick are happily in bed together.

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As protestors are burning their Nike sneakers and apparel, in another brilliant marketing move, Nike offered up safety tips for burning your products.

But what about the actual message of the ad?

Dream big, push yourself beyond limitations whether real or imagined, set goals that make others say you’re crazy, be bold and fearless, be you - the absolute best, most fabulous you, leave a lasting positive impact in the world.

What can possibly be wrong with any of that?

I watched the ad a few times and kept getting more inspired, with dreams, imagination, and goals stirred, realizing I’m still living small - not spreading my wings wide enough… And I’m one of the lucky ones, a white, middle-class American… whose only real obstacle is me, myself, and I.

To the protesters, riddle me this…

  • Are you going to stop watching football because Nike sponsors the game you love? Will you break up with your favorite team or player because Nike writes the checks?

  • Did you take a stand when Nike’s reputation was (and still is) in deep doo-doo over child labor and sweatshop conditions? Or did that not matter because it was in another country and didn't directly impact you?

  • Do you know what every brand you buy stands for and is it all in alignment with your beliefs and integrity?

To Nike...

  • WhaWhat are doing with all the profits from this ad? Instead of safe burning tips, why not encourage protesters to donate their sneakers to those without?

  • Or... with such the not-so-subtle political message that you're making with this alignment with Kaepernick, how about using some of your profits for a Get Out to Vote campaign, or an anti-gun initiative like Levi Strauss just announced?

  • How are you giving back? To me, when millions of dollars are involved, providing inspiration is great but falls very short of what you could be doing to help the underserved, less fortunate communities, the environment, anything your brand believes in beyond just profits... This is a real opportunity to take a stand and show what your brand is made of... or perhaps you are and I just don't want to believe it to be true.

To the rest of us, let’s be honest about where we stand on these questions…

  • Where do we draw the line between our addiction to consumerism and taking a stand for what we know is right in our hearts?

  • When does protest become hypocrisy?

  • When does convenience take precedence over what we believe?

I’m ashamed to admit that I’m guilty on a few fronts.

I pretend to be on the phone when I see anyone standing with a clipboard on the sidewalk so as not to have to engage in a dialogue about the cause they’re fighting for.

I shop at Duane Reade for convenience and some small savings instead of at the local drugstore - of which there used to be four, now down to one, in my neighborhood since DR hunkered down, then I complain about the homogenization of America. I get on a soapbox about the dying mom and pop stores that I didn’t always support and wonder if it would have made a difference.

I buy from Amazon because it’s so simple and they know me so well, yet it’s killing small businesses and is bad for the environment. Oh, and they sell the orange headed monster's books and his daughter's products… Yes, some individuals are making a living as selling products on the platform, but Amazon represents so much that I don’t like, except convenience.

I’d never buy a dog from a breeder, always choosing to go to the pound to rescue a stray…

My altruistic heart beats through a few levels of hypocrisy. But I own this contradiction, knowing that awareness is the first step to change.

I’m facing my truth with eyes wide open. This awakening is helping to me better define what I will and won’t stand for, and continuing to own, speak, and live my truth so my voice can be heard in protest or otherwise. Sometimes this self-awareness stuff is a real bitch; I wish could go back to sleepwalking, but once consciousness is raised even just the slightest, it’s hard to ignore.

So what happens now?

You’ve burned your sneakers and cursed out a brand you once loved, Nike and Colin got richer, and I got woke to being a hypocrite… there’s plenty of food for thought and dialogue; how do we bring this all together for the collective good?

Are you willing to risk everything for what you believe in?