Nike waded into the controversial waters of the NFL debate this week with tsunami-like unsubtlety.
— Colin Kaepernick (@Kaepernick7) September 3, 2018
Fast Company closely watched the unfolding saga of Nike’s partnership with NFL QB-turned-activist Colin Kaepernick. We covered the initial print ad and the reactionary Flag Respecters burning their Nike shoes in response, as well as the unveiling of a tie-in commercial, which aired during Thursday Night Football–either a bold statement or an expert-level troll, choose your own adventure. We even speculated on Nike’s true motivation for pursuing this partnership. The one thing we haven’t examined yet, however, is how the Kaepernick ad has landed from a cultural perspective, rather than a political or a business one. Answer: It hit harder than a slam-tackle from Kam Chancellor.
The main way to gauge just how popular the ad is among both supporters and detractors is its memefication. Whether you refuse to acknowledge that the NFL protests have always been about police brutality or not, you can find KaeperNike memes everywhere from The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to the fetid sludgebog that is Breitbart.
Some of the new Nike ads seem a little off… pic.twitter.com/876y29OEGm
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) September 5, 2018
50 Cent used the meme to slam his erstwhile rival Kanye West, who has flung himself down the stairwell of good standing in recent months.
The meme has proven pop-culture versatile, with users applying it to a broad swath of movie and TV characters.
The new Nike ad campaign is truly inspirational pic.twitter.com/3nc8tVb4ru
— The Office (@TheOfficePicts) September 6, 2018
— costanzagrams (@costanzagrams) September 6, 2018
— GOAT Movie Podcast (@GOATfilmpodcast) September 4, 2018
It’s also been a boon for users to ironically (I hope?) sub in public figures who are divisive for different reasons than why Colin Kaepernick is divisive, but are tangentially relevant.
— Michael Evans (@MiclBC) September 6, 2018
Nike believes, why don't you? pic.twitter.com/X4w2RYNQ2J
— Dank Meme Bot (@theMemesBotDank) September 5, 2018
Cher is the black T-shirt of memes: she goes with everything.
I'm officially over the Kaep/Nike memes.
Also, I really, really love/hate whomever did this. pic.twitter.com/fEQ2mHBf7A
— J.C.W ???????? (@vonOberst) September 5, 2018
This one is just plain practical advice.
— French Canadian Montana (@PeezyTX) September 5, 2018
Finally, here is a version of the meme in line with Fast Company’s breakdown of why the Kaepernick ad makes Nike seem more progressive than it actually is.