With emerging societal crises growing in both frequency and severity in today’s divisive social and political climate, brands of every stripe need to be prepared to either take a stand or stand down.

The wrong choice could easily spark a reputational firestorm. Peppercomm – a leading integrated communications and marketing firm – offers a solution.

StandSmart is Peppercomm’s proprietary service to help companies know when to speak out on these controversial issues, when to keep quiet and how to communicate clearly with key stakeholders.

The StandSmart S.T.A.R. analysis offers best practices from Peppercomm based on how brands are reacting in real-world scenarios. Our S.T.A.R. Award honors one organization each month for taking a smart stand.

Recent S.T.A.R. Analyses


The sheer number and intensity of crises in the news over the past few weeks place our Societal Crisis Stress Level gauge deep in the red zone. These crises, in particular, hit the top of our list:

  • CBS Chief Les Moonves Resigns Amid Sexual Misconduct Charges
  • Nike Makes Kaepernick Face of “Just Do It” 30th Anniversary Campaign
  • Levi Strauss CEO Announces Support for Gun Violence Prevention
  • Ford Tells Trump Why It Won’t Build China-Based Car in U.S.



In the first week of September, with the opening kickoff of the 2018 NFL just days away – and President Trump fanning the flames of the players-taking-a-knee controversy into a full-on inferno – Nike launched a campaign to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its “Just Do It” slogan that featured former NFL QB and protest figurehead Colin Kaepernick.

The negative reaction was predictably swift: social media was jam-packed with photos of indignant people burning their Nike sneakers or cutting the swoosh logo from their Nike apparel. At least one college severed its athletic department’s relationship with Nike, while a Louisiana mayor banned the company’s products from use in his town’s recreational facilities. And, of course, the president chimed in with a “What was Nike thinking?” tweet.

Within the first 48 hours of the brouhaha, Nike stock dropped 3%. But in as little as three days, Nike products began to fly off shelves, leading to a 31% increase in online sales. By the time the Kaepernick ad aired during the season’s first game, Nike – led by its conviction and armed with extensive supporting market research – had once again gained substantial reward from a sizable risk.


Stand: Does the organization’s response align with its stated corporate purpose?

Nike’s stated mission is about as purpose-driven as they come: to “Bring Inspiration and Innovation to Every Athlete in The World (If You Have a Body, You’re an Athlete).” Further, it’s clear from the campaign – and the global nature of the positive response – that far more people are inspired than offended.

Timing: Did the organization respond quickly?

From the moment it went public with the news, Nike – to its credit – remained above the fray and refrained from engaging in any back-and-forth with its detractors. Instead, each day after the initial campaign announcement saw the company staying the course and sticking with its convictions. “Quiet confidence” would be an appropriate description of how Nike reacted to the firestorm.

Accountability: Did the organization’s top executive respond with a statement or action?

Again, Nike let its purpose-driven campaign speak for itself. The company also prefers to have its sponsored athletes (versus its leadership or employees) extol its virtues. And that’s exactly what happened, with such icons as LeBron James and Serena Williams throwing their sizable support behind, and lending their images to, the campaign and the broader social movement behind it. This was a far cry from Michael Jordan’s reported “Republicans buy sneakers, too” excuse for sitting it out decades ago.

Response: Is the response strong, decisive and actionable?

Less of a response and more of a true “stand,” Nike is letting no moss gather underneath its iconic footwear as it proactively dives headlong into one of the burning societal issues of our time. Case in point: not rising to Trump’s baited tweet. Strong? Decisive? Actionable? Let’s be clear: Nike has long known how to turn controversy into currency. This was a decision aligned with purpose, yet driven by a clear-eyed view of audience, product and the bottom line. And it appears to be paying off on all of those fronts.