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Anger communication Donald Trump empathy Persuasion protest

Kaepernick’s Greatest Play

When Collin Kaepernick first knelt in 2016, it shocked the nation. It was new and boy, was it edgy. Twitter feeds melted down, and Facebook profiles reached DEFCON 1. How dare this overpaid professional athlete disrespect the Flag. Many took the kneeling personal, and well, that was the point. Remember the pig socks?

Students of persuasion saw the setup. They knew that as a brand, the American Flag is one of the strongest, and so there was a risk. But they also knew that offensiveness attracts attention. It was a cunning play because even if you hated the message, it was hard not to look. The “wrongness” of Kaepernick’s kneeling attracted worldwide attention. Even President Trump talked about it.

You don’t have to agree with Kaepernick’s message to appreciate the effectiveness of his technique. Like Byron York notes, when Kaepernick started, it was just one athlete refusing to stand for the national anthem. Today, only one athlete refuses to kneel during the anthem. Kaepernick baited the country into focusing on him and, in turn, his cause. Kaepernick moved the energy and attention to him. If you believe the polls, the majority of Americans in 2020 view kneeling during the anthem as acceptable. https://tinyurl.com/y64yy6uw

People got outraged, and Kaepernick won.

One sees this provocative technique in other fields too. Say, Mr. President Trump. Or take Nike. Remember the Kaepernick Ad. It caused some conservatives to burn their shoes or others to cut out the swooshes. https://tinyurl.com/yybrgsn6

Nike has one of the best marketing teams in the world. Nike’s expert team knew there would be a YUGE backlash, but they correctly predicted that the controversy would boost their brand by raising Nike’s attention in people’s minds. That attention, of course, would come at a cost, but on the whole, it would translate into new sales. They were right. Despite the boycotting and gnashing of teeth, Nike boasted a whopping 31% increase in sales a year after the ad. https://tinyurl.com/ydy5u3zq

People got angry. Nike got richer.

Today, as Scott Adams pointed out, the kneeling has morphed from something new and edgy into something more like theater. The gesture seems more like a performance than a protest. Many are still angry, but vocalizing that anger is probably counterproductive. The kneelers want a public spectacle. If the pro-flag people are wise, they’ll ignore the group performance. That will be hard, but the best counter-play is to treat the kneeling as an unimportant, which in the grand scheme of things, it is. Matching outrage with outrage won’t work. It will just attract more attention and boost the signal of the kneeling. Instead, the pro-flag team should treat the kneeling like theater and let the momentum dissipate.