Corporate responsibilitiesLEE DONG-HYUN
The author is the deputy head of industry 1 teamof the JoongAng Ilbo.
Nike successfully changed its image in 20 years. After a photo of a 12-year-old Pakistani boy sewing a soccer ball was published in Life magazine in 1996, the American sporting goods company was criticized for exploiting child labor in developing countries. Since then, the company has been working to renew its image by operating a sustainable business and creating an innovation team.
The company known for celebrity marketing, such as its Air Jordan series, used marketing tools to expand the image of running shoes beyond middle-class white men.
Ad slogans like “Just Do It” captured the hearts of teenagers. In the 2000s, it focused on sustainability, with low carbon and environmentally-friendly initiatives. Aligning its brand with the importance of equality and freedom in sports, it has recently added its voice to the debates on discrimination and gender issues.
In 2018, Nike chose Colin Kaepernick as a model after he knelt during the national anthem at NFL games to protest police brutality. Beyond political correctness, Nike is considered to have adopted a progressive image.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, it started the “You Can’t Stop Us” campaign. In Korea, short-track speed skater Shim Suk-hee was made a model. In a recent campaign by Nike Japan addressing racial discrimination directly, some Japanese people are boycotting Nike.
Korean companies have also shown interest in Environmental, Social and Corporate Governance (ESG). Nike may be the origin of ESG, and the marketing mastermind often defied controversy to build its image. Lately, after the issue of exploiting ethnic Muslims in China was raised, Nike again found itself facing criticism.
Companies’ social roles are important, as they create employment and increase wealth. But “proper” corporate activity is a must, not an option. I hope Korean companies that have been rather late to join ESG show sincerity rather than marketing tactics. Maximizing profit is a company’s reason for existence, but consumers will open their hearts to companies that operate properly.