When Nike Stopped Selling Shoes And Began Selling Fitness

2 Aug




Kim Bhasin|

Aug. 1, 2011, 12:59 PM



During a 1988 meeting between Nike’s ad agency Wieden + Kennedy and some Nike employees, the agency’s co-founder Dan Wieden proclaimed: “You Nike guys, you just do it,” according to Nike legend.

But it would take more than a brilliant tagline to create the gargantuan global brand that Nike is today.

Nike’s brand was built over three decades of strategic marketing, which looked to make Nike the ultimate symbol of the human body’s capabilities. Nike’s true strength doesn’t lie in its vast exposure. The brand is so powerful because it has become synonymous with athletics, fitness and health.

Co-founded by entrepreneur Phil Knight and track & field coach Bill Bowerman back in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, Nike boasted athletic roots right from the get-go, but the company didn’t make the big leap until it took advantage of the jogging and fitness craze that swept the country in the late 1980s.

“Just Do It” began to accompany the white Nike Swoosh logo during this same period. Soon, Nike didn’t even have to put its name in its ads and it flew past rival Reebok, who had overtaken Nike earlier in the decade. It also gained future basketball icon Michael Jordan’s endorsement, again emphasizing stellar athletic performance, which had a particularly massive long-term impact on Nike’s business. “Brand Jordan today sells about twice as much product around the world as when he was playing,” Knight told CNBC in 2008.

Since its new era began, Nike has stayed consistent with its message in both advertising and product development. Some of Nike’s most recent marketing campaigns include anti-obesity ads in China that encourage exercise and women’s health spots that target females of all sizes. And it has stayed up to date as marketing gains new platforms — there’s even an app that allows you compete virtually with your friends over Facebook as you work out daily.

But there are still lingering scars for Nike. Its brand reputation has taken constant hits over the years due to labor abuse accusations and investigations in its overseas manufacturing facilities.

Nike has also been oft-criticized for sticking by athlete spokespersons that have been shamed by scandal, but it’s just another part of the Nike brand. It only cares about performance — as long as these athletes still represent the pinnacle of their sports, Nike will stand by them, as it showed by keeping golf superstar Tiger Woods on the payroll through his huge scandal. A notable exception was Michael Vick, whose dog-fighting antics landed him in jail and kept him off the gridiron. Vick recently re-signed with Nike, four years after begin dropped.

Beyond its catchy taglines and creative commercials, at its core Nike’s brand is just looking to represent athletic fitness — and to sell millions and millions of shoes.


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