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Nike: All Hail the Messenger. [Branding, Content Marketing]

Nike, Shoes, Branding, Content Marketing, Sports, Fashion, Innovation, Marketing, Company Culture, Advertisement.

Business, Advertising, Marketing, Entrepreneurship.
Oyemaja; Nike: All Hail the Messenger [Branding, Content Marketing].
“Remember Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes. And yet, when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company…”

In 1973, Carolyn Davidson a design student was contracted by the owners of a footwear brand to design a logo for them. She came up with a " swoosh " and was paid $35 for it. Presently, that logo is perhaps the most recognizable brand logo in the world worth more than $26 billion alone. And today, that brand is the world’s leading supplier of athletic apparel and footwear.

We all know and love Nike for several reasons. From its smart and quirky slogan- “just do it”, to its trendy yet classy design, to its very popular swoosh. Everything about Nike says; really cool. And that’s just it; Nike is a really cool brand. But the more interesting discussion is centered around the how. How did Nike manage to create such a famous brand? What about this shoe company makes it so cool? Was it something in their marketing? And if so, how can we replicate that? This piece dives into that conversation, breaking down how Nike used its marketing efforts to create something special.

Using Content to Create Culture

What if I told you that the jogging culture we have all over the world today wasn’t always as popular? The trend actually began in the 1970s, and Nike helped to popularize it. As the story goes, Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, who was a track coach at the University of Oregon went to visit a friend in New Zealand. There he noticed something rather surprising; several people of all ages running for recreation. He was shocked. Apart from athletes and children, no one really did that in the United States. His friend encouraged him to try it and he liked it. He realized that running is the future, and decided to bring this culture back home.

So he gets back to America and launches an ad in the local newspaper inviting people for Sunday to come and run. On the first day, almost 200 people showed up. And he advertised again and again until over 1500 people showed up. This running thing was actually catching on, so he decided to double down on it. His weapon: content. He collaborated with a cardiologist to write and publish a book on the benefits of jogging. The book experienced massive success, selling over a million copies. And thus began the masterclass of Nike using content to create a culture that boosted sales.

But Nike doesn’t only market itself through fitness culture, but also through music culture. In 2002, St-Louis-based artist Nelly dropped “Air Force Ones”, a song about buying Nike shoes. The song was an instant hit and became a street anthem. Nike leaned into it and aired it constantly as part of a commercial. Several other musicians have mentioned Nike in their songs all the way from Jay-z in the early 2000s to more recent ones like Drake’s Jumpman and Frank Ocean’s Nikes. By constantly using content to tap into culture, Nike has driven its image as the coolest footwear brand out there. But this is just what Nike has achieved with content marketing. What makes the Nike brand really special is its understanding of who it is, and how it expresses that.

Who We Are

Steve Jobs, founder of Apple and great product visionary, saw something in Nike long ago. Recognizing the genius in Nike’s brand messaging, he said;

“Remember Nike sells a commodity. They sell shoes. And yet, when you think of Nike, you feel something different than a shoe company. In their ads as you know, they don’t ever talk about the product. They don’t ever talk about their air soles and why they’re better than Reebok’s air soles. What does Nike do in their advertising? They honor great athletes, and they honor great athletics. That’s who they are. That’s what they are about”

Aptly put. Nike never talks about their products but instead spotlights great athletes and great athletics. In ad after ad, Nike brings to our screens clips of our favorite athletes in moments of greatness, doing what they do best. And it’s the genius behind this marketing masterclass that helps the Nike brand transcend from the realm of appeal due to mere utility, to the realm of something that appeals to every human being a lot more; emotion.

A Masterclass in Motivation

Spiralytics defines emotional marketing as;

The deliberate use of persuasive messages that tap into human emotion to form a deep connection with the audience toward achieving the desired result. Often, it appeals to a single emotion only. It can be fear, anger, joy, or any other human emotion that is strong enough to influence decision-making or urge an action.

Here’s the thing; marketing works because humans are thinking beings. Every day we make purchase decisions based on a rational consideration of factors like cost, utility, quality, alternatives, etc. But emotional marketing works because humans are not just thinking beings, but feeling beings. Emotions are powerful and influence your decision a lot more than you would think. Studies have shown that emotions influence our decision-making on a daily basis across various areas. Studies have also shown that ads with an emotional angle to them have a higher success rate of 31% compared to the 16% success rate of ads that only spoke to the rational side of customers. And with a myriad of emotions to tap into, brands have a lot of opportunities on their hands.

Nike through its ads taps into one core emotion to excite its customers; Hope. The reason for this choice is rooted in Nike’s brand identity. Nike’s mission statement is; “To bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world”. And that’s exactly what Nike does with its marketing; It inspires. Ad after ad, Nike uses storytelling to explore the potential for greatness within every human being. With every campaign, Nike paints compelling pictures of everyday individuals pushing their bodies to amazing heights, breaking past their limits, and surpassing expectations. All of this without ever mentioning their product. And all of these stories powerfully succeed in doing what they’re designed to do; inspire. Like this recent International Women’s Day ad:

My personal favorite is this really short one:

If you don’t have time to watch it, here’s what it’s about. It features a woman in her late fifties jogging and she says;

“A few years ago, I would have had trouble walking up this hill. i smoked, I drank, I was fat, and I hadn’t done a lick of exercise in my life. so I started jogging. And then the video fades to a dark background on which is written; Priscilla Welch. Winner, New York Marathon at age 42.

I love this ad so much because it masterfully yet briefly portrays all the core elements of the Nike brand; its love for fitness, its honor for athleticism, and its unwavering belief in human potential. It’s a masterclass in motivation. The ad doesn’t explicitly tell you to do anything. But at the end of it, the call to action is clear. Yet there’s one more really cool way in which Nike sends its message across.

It’s Air time

Oyemaja; Nike: All Hail the Messenger. Business, Leadership, Law, Entrepreneur
Oyemaja; Nike: All Hail the Messenger [Branding, Content Marketing].

Brand partnerships when handled right can be a great way to boost a brand’s reach. However, most brands fail to make the most of these. But for Nike, it’s a different story. Since Nike already believes in honoring great athletes, right from the jump they have the perfect set of influencers for their product. With a sponsorship lineup of athletes of the caliber of Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar of Soccer, to Lebron James and Kyrie Irving of Basketball. And it’s not just these two sports, but across almost all major sports globally, Nike will be found sponsoring athletes, clubs, and countries. But it’s not just about the signings and the announcement of a new sponsorship, but about how Nike collaborates with these athletes to effectively benefit both of them significantly. Here’s an interesting story about how Nike executed one of the best brand partnerships of all time.

In 1984, a talented but rookie basketballer named Micheal Jordan was about to start his first season with the NBA. he was already being offered a deal from Adidas and he was eager to take it. To be clear, at that time, Nike was a smaller company than others such as Converse and Adidas. Jordan himself had never worn a Nike shoe, but he wore Converse when he was at the University of North Carolina. Converse was also the brand worn by NBA stars Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. And Adidas was larger in revenue by 50%. However Nike wanted him more, so offered him a deal more lucrative than that offered to any other NBA player.

The deal was signed. At the time, all the players in the NBA were mandated to wear white shoes. But then the shoe Nike designed for Micheal was black, red, and white. Thus the shoe was banned, and Micheal Jordan would be fined $5000 each time he wore the shoes. Now here’s where it gets interesting; rather than Nike appealing the rule, or changing the design of the shoes, Nike insisted that Jordan wear the shoes, and agreed to pay the fine each time. Of course, the shoes garnered much buzz. Nike projected $3 million in sales at the end of the first four years of the deal, but at the end of the first year alone, Nike had sold over $126 million.

Nike’s willingness to lean into controversy and use that as an opportunity to stand out speaks to Nike’s creativity and daringness as a brand. But more so, the brilliant utilization of that collaboration has helped both athlete and brand immensely. Micheal Jordan has made over a billion dollars from his Nike deal as the Air Jordan is practically a household name. And Nike has virtually monopolized the once competitive basketball sneaker market and left its competitors in the dust.

The Takeaway?

Even among the world’s biggest companies, Nike stands out. And that’s because, in a world filled with brands that are all about themselves, Nike comes with a message. Nike is not the message, but merely a messenger. And the message is all about you. Yet it is in this counterintuitive approach, lies the genius that sets Nike apart: that by trying to draw attention to its message and not itself, the whole world focuses on them.

The cohesiveness in Nike’s brand identity is remarkable. Its philosophy is that everyone with a body is an athlete and they should be inspired. And its marketing efforts are a consistent expression of that idea. More brands need to start thinking seriously about what their philosophy is, and continuously let that define their messaging. What is our core idea? Our mission? And how do we ensure that our marketing is a consistent and clear expression of these ideas?

The answers to these questions are how you set yourself apart in the competition of a global marketplace. For Nike, the message is clear. So clear, that anytime you see that swoosh you are instantly reminded. Michael Jordan did it. Cristiano Ronaldo did it. Your much older neighbor who goes jogging every weekend is doing it. And you can do it. So why not go ahead, and well, just do it.

Originally published by Chiziterem Ogbonna on Linkedin

Oyemaja Executives.


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