Nike CEO: Kaepernick ad generated 'real uptick' commercially

Nike CEO Mark Parker lauded the early success of a polarizing marketing campaign starring free agent NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, but mixed first-quarter results sent the apparel giant’s shares lower on Wednesday.

Kaepernick, who was the first NFL player to protest during the national anthem, stars in the advertising campaign commemorating the 30th anniversary of Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan. While the campaign’s sales impact won’t be known until Nike announces second quarter results, Parker said it has generated “a real uptick in traffic and engagement, both socially and commercially.”

“We feel actually very good and very proud of the work that we’re doing with ‘Just Do It,’ introducing ‘Just Do It’ to the new generation of consumers, on the 30th anniversary of the campaign when it first debuted,” Parker said during an earnings call, without mentioning Kaepernick by name. “We know it’s resonated actually quite strongly with consumers.”

Kaepernick’s inclusion in the campaign drew a mixed reaction on social media, with some critics ripping Nike for mixing its business with politics. The former 49ers quarterback has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season, when he began kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality.

Nike topped Wall Street’s estimates for both earnings and revenue in its fiscal first quarter, but shares fell by as much as 3 percent in early trading Wednesday after the company’s gross margin increased at a slower rate than analysts anticipated. The brand’s sales in China also fell short of projections, despite 20 percent growth.

Revenue grew 10 percent to $9.95 billion, outpacing Wall Street’s expectations. The company posted earnings per share of 67 cents, exceeding an expected 64 cents.