Colin Kaepernick's "Just Do It" ad a bonanza for Nike, CEO says

Last Updated Sep 25, 2018 6:01 PM EDT

Nike is benefiting from its controversial "Just Do It" advertisement featuring former NFL star Colin Kaepernick, CEO Mark Parker said Tuesday, telling analysts the apparel giant has gained "both socially and commercially" from the campaign.

Nike has seen increased traffic to its website, record customer interest on its social media feeds and growing online exposure globally, he added during a conference call to discuss the company's fiscal first-quarter earnings.

It's too early to tell if Nike will eventually see a bump in its financial results from the alliance with Kaepernick, since the ad came out after the quarter wrapped up. For the period, Nike recorded double-digit earnings growth. It was boosted by this summer's FIFA World Cup, which put the spotlight on soccer stars and teams wearing Nike clothing and shoes. 

Courting controversy

Nike stirred controversy earlier this month over its ad featuring Kaepernick, who in 2016 started kneeling during the national anthem to protest racial injustice. But after an initial hit to its shares, if anything the campaign has only seemed to strengthen the brand with its core demographic and investors, who have bid the stock higher since then.

The brouhaha hasn't dented Nike shares -- the stock has had a sizzling year so far, rising 36 percent.

For its latest results, Nike reported revenue of $9.95 billion, just topping expectations of $9.94 billion. The company also tallied a second consecutive quarter of growth in the U.S., with sales up 6 percent. 

Still, shares fell nearly 5 percent in after-hours trading following the earnings release. 

It's not the first time Nike has stepped into cultural issues. The company came out with an "Equality" campaign showcasing Serena Williams and LeBron James in the wake of President Donald Trump entering the White House. 

"I don't think it was a big gamble. Historically, Nike has always done this, so it was no shock," said Antonio S. Williams, who teaches sports marketing at Indiana University. "They're the king of emotional marketing, so everything they do, they do it with emotion."

Nike did potentially endanger its status as one of two primary suppliers to NFL teams and fans, given Kaepernick is suing the league, alleging collusion on its part in stopping him from signing with a team.

Tiger's "inspiring" return

One unexpected factor that could boost Nike in the months ahead: The unexpected return to golfing glory of Tiger Woods, a longtime Nike athlete. The 42-year-old on Sunday won a PGA tournament for the first time in more than five years. 

"It's great to see Tiger back, and the reaction to his performance on Sunday was inspiring," Parker told the call with analysts.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.