Nike & American Dreamin’: How Advertising Must Step It Up with Immigration

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To say that companies have the power to influence people is a given. But to say that advertising has the power to influence companies to influence people, well, that gives us power.

In choosing to make Colin Kaepernick, the former N.F.L. quarterback who jump started a movement in the NFL to protest racial injustice by kneeling during the national anthem, to be the face of its 30th anniversary “Just Do It Campaign,” Nike made a choice – they are standing firm in support of this important movement for justice.

Good job Nike, but also – where my brands supporting immigrants at?

Professionals in marketing and advertising hold the keys that can open doors to a path of progress. We are drivers of communication and connection that, in turn, drive consumerism.

There is no question that Nike’s choice was highly influenced by potential financial benefits. Nike’s online sales jumped 31% after company unveiled Kaepernick campaign. And that’s great. Although its stock has fallen, they are investing in the next generation of conscious consumers. Nearly two-thirds of individuals who wear Nike in the United States are under 35 years old, and are much more racially diverse than the baby boomer population.

We have a responsibility to share messages that respect and represent the fabric of our community, honoring the realities and diversity our fellow consumers face and embody, and presenting the change we want to see. And, most importantly, we don’t have to pick between pressing social issues to support. Whether it is kneeling to protest racial injustice and police brutality or attending the Families Belong Together march, it’s vital we remain engaged with the pressing issues that affect our communities. 

Under President Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting people who cross the border illegally announced in early May, an average of 65 children have been separated from parents each day. Whether legally or otherwise, immigrants, including Dreamers, make up the fabric of this nation. In previous administrations, these children were able to become Dreamers with a path to citizenship. And still, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows nearly 800,000 so-called Dreamers the basic opportunity to work and study without the threat of deportation, is also in jeopardy. Dreamers are vital to the future of our companies and our economy. With them, we grow and create jobs. They represent an important aspect of our global competitive advantage.* (more below). Writing letters to congress, calling our senators, and mobilizing communities on social media can help.

Marketing professionals can take it a step further.

A marketing story well told has the power to mobilize communities to engage in dialogues of progress and equality. Brands that adopt a socially relevant focus for their campaigns and take a social stand can expand their consumer pool and brand affinity. Financially beneficial, this evolution of marketing and advertising can also foster positive social change.

Why aren’t we seeing immigrants in more traditional ad campaigns ? This is not about taking a political stance but a social one. At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees. They are part of the fabric of this nation, and they deserve the stage. The use of Spanish language and cultural connections are critical to U.S. Hispanic identity and lifestyle. 

Campaigns that feature immigrants — or the immigrant journey — will not only have a better chance at reaching the immigrant market and progressive demographics, but more importantly, can become part of the conversation about what it means to be an American and ally to the issue of immigration reform and immigrant rights.

A recent Nielsen report, “Descubrimiento Digital: The Online Lives of Latinx Consumers,” shows how marketers and advertisers can connect with the brand-loyal Latinx community by authentically aligning on certain social issues. From the environment to educational opportunities, U.S. Hispanics are more likely to purchase brands that support a cause they care about (57%), and 80% agree that when they find a brand they like, they stick with it. Building and keeping trust is a vital part of that loyalty, as brands must develop meaningful dialogue with Hispanics, with relevant content that shows they care about the Latinx community, and then utilize the power of social media to engage.

One of my favorite examples of this is a Honey Maid ad from 2015 which celebrates the Fourth of July with an immigrant family’s story. The ad, completely in Spanish, sends a clear message that immigrants make up the fabric of this diverse nation, and they, too, celebrate Independence Day for the country they call home.

As President Trump preys on the DACA program, cutting its funding, building a wall, and reducing legal immigration by half, it is imperative that we educate his supporters and the nation at large about the benefits immigrants bring.

Marketing and advertising can help move conversations forward. And, if being catalysts for social change seems slightly overconfident, then, at the very least we can bring relevant and important issues to the eyes of consumers. This can help shift perceptions and actions.

The more we start showing all the diverse faces that make up this country, the more we’ll make people from remote places comfortable with the narrative that America was and continues to be built, in large part, by immigrants. That is how we can change the conversation from fear to one that celebrates our diversity.

We can see this type of social-driven approach taken by several brands representing various issues.

Nike has also supported the recent female-empowerment movement with their latest campaign in Mexico this summer, “Juntas Imparables” (Just Do It), made solely for a female audience. The ad tells women that the qualities of athleticism which the Nike slogan promotes can be used to empower women. “With strength and agility, women can hurdle themselves forward to success, they can band together to achieve their greatest goals. All they need is to just do it.”

In February 2018, Gap published a photo of a model breastfeeding her son in an Instagram gallery that received more than 35,600 likes in just a few days, taking a stand in  supporting the recent movement to normalize breastfeeding in private and public spaces. In July 2017, P&G launched their “The Talk” commercial, a powerful film that is part of a broader platform called “My Black is Beautiful.” The commercial aims to enable conversations about racial bias,  in turn promoting dialogue and understanding. Though the commercial has received some backlash; P&G stands by it. The company said they will producer similar ads focused on other issues like gender equality.

Bravo! I applaud the agencies and in-house creatives for recommending brands use their reach to stand for what matters and to help make a positive change.

Personally, I’ve had the pleasure of producing various issue-forward documentary shorts for our clients as part of our campaigns.

Working alongside Participant Media’s TV channel, I produced a short film called Harvesting Hope in 2014, shot by Nelson Navarrete, a son of Venezuelan immigrants. Nelson’s background as an immigrant was as much a part of the film, as the story it tells of Jose Mendoza, a young immigrant farm worker living in Salinas, CA as he strives to become an artist, and represent and inspire his community through his artwork.

We also documented the story of Allen Nguyen for our Louisiana Calling campaign, an initiative for education and workforce development in Louisiana. In the film, Allen talks about his immigrant journey and starting his own business. What stands out to me is that his mother gets about 25% of screen time in the film, speaking in only Vietnamese. Two things work well for the issue of immigration with this story: First, the normalization of a second language by allowing it to be heard; Second, the story Allen shares, which speaks directly of three vital aspects of the US history: the Vietnam War; an immigrant journey to the US; and the success story of an immigrant entrepreneur.

Creative professionals have an opportunity to encourage their brand clients to see the benefit in telling these immigrants’ stories and how they’re aligned to their brand values.

How would the conversation in our living rooms change if Super Bowl commercials featured less dancing animals and more real stories of real people? For a produce brand, this could mean portraying an immigrant farmer as the lead, describing his journey, giving him and other immigrant farmers well-deserved credit and recognition for their hard labor. For a healthcare brand, it can mean breaking down stereotypes and rather than casting the immigrant as the assistant nurse, we’d make her the doctor.

Nike made a choice, and the world is watching. We need other brands to step it up, too. How would our idea of the immigrant journey change if we started to hear diverse stories not only from the news, but from those brands we consume most?

I want to see more brands standing up for their consumers in more authentic ways.

I want to see more marketers recognize the positive strategic implications in creating campaigns that bring to light these social issues.

I want to see more consumers talking about campaigns and the messages, whether positive or negative, that these send.

I want to see more immigrants and allies demand that their stories are shared as much as those of their neighbors.

What do you want to see?

*Info on DACA

All DACA recipients grew up in America, registered with our government, submitted to extensive background checks, and are diligently giving back to our communities and paying income taxes. More than 97 percent are in school or in the workforce, 5 percent started their own business, 65 percent have purchased a vehicle, and 16 percent have purchased their first home. At least 72 percent of the top 25 Fortune 500 companies count DACA recipients among their employees. [Source here] Unless we act now to preserve the DACA program, all 780,000 hardworking young people will lose their ability to work legally in this country, and every one of them will be at immediate risk of deportation. Our economy would lose $460.3 billion from the national GDP and $24.6 billion in Social Security and Medicare tax contributions. [Source here]