Just 'don't' do it: Brands advertising the art of doing nothing

Topics Nike  | Alia Bhatt | Coronavirus

Asian Paints, Amitabh Bachchan and a troupe of movie stars and Decathlon are among a host of brands asking people to stay indoors
Late last month, even as most governments were still dithering over the way forward with public health, safety and worrying about how to carry on with business as usual, global sports brand Nike put out a post on all its social media channels. The brand that is known for the strong stand it has taken on a range of issues was doing something quite unprecedented. 

As a sports brand committed to the outdoors and physical activity, Nike asked its followers to do nothing. “Play inside, play for the world,” its post read. Within hours, customised versions of the same lit up the timelines of Nike’s star athletes, including LeBron James, Cristiano Ronaldo, Maria Sharapova and Odell Beckham Jr. 


Ever since brands in almost every part of the world and across categories have played a variant of the same message. In a post Covid-19 world, a common advertising narrative has become the norm for brands of all shades and sizes. The global has truly become local and vice versa.

Ashish Mishra, CEO Interbrand says, “It is not the time for cleverness or gimmicks. It is the time to be honest and compassionate. To offer any and all kinds of supports. Especially if your organisation and brand purported to celebrate such values ever. This is the time to live those values and that brand.” 


For most brands that has meant eschewing the instinctive call for action, an integral part of all communication. Consider global sports retailer Decathlon that focuses on offering an active, outdoorsy lifestyle. Under lock down, the retail brand’s website is a virtual storefront for yoga classes, exercise and a community building space for people. 

Asian Paints, the Tata group, the social media platforms, broadcasters and OTT platforms are all on the same trail. Asian Paints users are sending in short videos of their homes under lock down. Tata Sky has do-it-yourself tips and videos to keep people engaged. The latest to join the bandwagon is the film industry. Actors Amitabh Bachchan, Ranbir Kapoor, Diljit Dosanjh, Alia Bhatt, Priyanka Chopra have all come together to ask people to stay in and stay safe, a tagline that knows no boundaries and cuts through all contexts.

The Nike way

Anyone who’s had a chance to go through Nike founder Phil Knight’s memoir, Shoe Dog, can vouch for the fact that the man behind the swoosh is notoriously media-shy. His company’s commercials, however, are anything but, reflecting a bold, outspoken approach that has emerged as a gold standard of sorts in the global advertising space. 

Today for many, Nike is that one brand that leads the way when it comes to making a public statement and impact with its advertising. The sportswear giant is synonymous with delivering commercials that explore social and political themes — intrepid, uplifting campaigns inevitably offering a wider comment on the kind of world we live in. 


The most audacious of which, perhaps, was the Colin Kaepernick commercial from 2018. Designed to mark three decades of the first-ever “Just Do It” ad, the two-minute clip showed Kaepernick — the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback who kneeled during the American national anthem in 2016 to protest police brutality and racial inequality in the US — asking people if “their dreams were crazy enough”. 

The ad had riled many. President Donald Trump tweeted, “What was Nike thinking?”, even as thousands across the country burnt their Nike trainers and apparel. Worse, the immediate aftermath saw the company’s shares slip 3.2 per cent and #NikeBoycott become a worldwide trend.

But once Nike rode out the initial backlash, not only did the shares bounce back, but sales over the next year went up by as much as 31 per cent. A year later, it came out with “Dream Crazier”, a spine-tingling sequel to the Kaepernick video that paid tribute to female athletes, encouraging them to obliterate barriers of gender bias. 

Nike’s tendency to stick its neck out does come with a set of riders, however. In 2018, six-time Olympic gold medallist Allyson Felix and Nike locked horns over the brand’s attitude towards her pregnancy. But all that is now history and Nike, by pledging $15 million to fight Covid-19 and allowing customers to use the premium features of its training app for free, is trying to initiate a more direct impact this time around — one that will, hopefully, be as effective as so many of its ads.

With inputs from Arundhuti Dasgupta

Business Standard is now on Telegram.
For insightful reports and views on business, markets, politics and other issues, subscribe to our official Telegram channel