Nike's Colin Kaepernick ad is the 'gangster genius brand move of 2018'

Key Points
  • Nike's 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign, featuring Colin Kaepernick, was a stroke of brilliance, NYU's Scott Galloway says.
  • The marketing professor says the sportswear giant took a calculated risk in choosing the polarizing Kaepernick.
  • While on the San Francisco 49ers in 2016, the now ex-NFL quarterback sparked the kneeling during the national anthem protest.
A billboard featuring former San Francisco 49ers quaterback Colin Kaepernick is displayed on the roof of the Nike Store on September 5, 2018 in San Francisco, California. 
Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Nike's decision to feature former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick in the 30th anniversary "Just Do It" campaign was a stroke of brilliance, according to Scott Galloway, professor at the NYU Stern School of Business.

The marketing guru Thursday on CNBC called the act by Nike "the gangster genius brand move of 2018."

In a "Squawk Alley" interview, Galloway said the sportswear and athletic shoe giant took a calculated risk in choosing the polarizing Kaepernick, who started kneeling during the national anthem in 2016, when he was on the San Francisco 49ers, to protest the treatment of African-Americans in the U.S.

Nike did the math, figuring about 60 percent of its full-year revenue is generated outside North America and "no one overseas thinks America is handling race issues well," Galloway said, adding "two-thirds of customers under the age of 40 tend to bias progressive" and they're the prime users of Nike products.

The ad, narrated by Kaepernick, will be shown Thursday evening when the NFL season kicks off with the Atlanta Falcons taking on the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.

The NFL is trying to get beyond the whole kneeling controversy, which came to a head last season, with players around the league joining the protest and President Donald Trump taking them to task for what he believed was a sign of disrespect for the country.

In May, the NFL banned on-field kneeling during the anthem but allowed for players who don't want to stand to stay in the locker room until the anthem is over.

Nike's brand exposure on TV, radio, online and social media since first announcing the Kaepernick-led campaign is worth $163.5 million, according to Apex Marketing.

Kaepernick on Monday tweeted a photo of the advertisement, which quickly went viral online, spawning support and backlash. Then Nike dropped the commercial Wednesday on YouTube.

— CNBC's Lauren Thomas and Angelica LaVito contributed to this report.

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Marketing guru Scott Galloway on the worst branding move of the week