Nike is good at a lot of things: manufacturing quality shoes; supplying equipment and gear for many professional and collegiate athletic teams; and making a ton of money. But where the company truly excels is its marketing. Nobody does branding quite like Nike. I would be shocked if there is a single person reading this article who hasn’t heard of Nike; in fact, most of you probably own at least one Nike product (As I write this, I’m actually wearing an article of clothing with a Nike logo on it).
So how did Nike reach the pinnacle of the sports world and become a corporate juggernaut? It wasn’t because of their shoes (which are good but often unremarkable). Nike dominates the sports gear industry because of their brilliant branding strategies. Here are four of the reasons why Nike is the reigning king of branding:
Association with the biggest names
What kind of shoes did Michael Jordan make extremely popular? Most people know the answer is Air Jordans, which regularly sell for hundreds of dollars and yet still have people lining up to purchase them. But did you know Air Jordan is owned by Nike? The company locked up His Airness in 1984 and has never let him go. Aside from the greatest basketball player of all time, Nike has also made deals with Tiger Woods (the greatest golfer of his generation), Derek Jeter (essentially the face of baseball since 2000), and Cristiano Ronaldo (one of the world’s most famous athletes). And the company always makes sure to lock up the “next big thing” early: Woods’ heir apparent as the world’s best golfer, Rory McIlroy, signed a 10-year, $200+ million sponsorship deal with Nike in 2013.
Understanding how to make an impression
Many established companies have rather timid advertising campaigns, preferring to rest on their laurels and history of success. Nike is not one of those companies. Instead, it’s constantly tinkering, innovating and pushing the envelope to create campaigns people will talk about. From Nike’s early success with commercials featuring Mars Blackmon proclaiming “It’s gotta’ be the shoes!” to the brutally honest black and white ad showing an emotional Tiger Woods being chastised by his father, Nike has never been afraid to take chances with its ad campaigns. The company makes commercials you don’t forget.
The messaging is unfailingly consistent
Don’t even pretend you don’t know Nike’s slogan: Just do it. It’s been the same for nearly 30 years, and the logo (the Nike “swoosh”) has been around even longer than that. And despite the fact that Nike co-founder and chairman Phil Knight admitted he “didn’t love” the swoosh in the beginning, he stuck with it. It is now one of the most easily recognized logos in the world, even being used in a silly anachronistic manner in the 2001 film A Knight’s Tale.
The University of Oregon is good at football
If you follow college football, you know why this is on the list, but let’s go through it for the uninformed. Phil Knight is an Oregon native who also attended the University of Oregon, so he loves the school with all of his heart. He has donated more than $300 million to the Oregon Athletic Department, and ensures that Nike provides a seemingly endless supply of new uniforms for the football team.
The team has several different design options for helmets, jerseys, pants, socks and shoes; so many, in fact, that as of 2006, the Ducks have 512 possible uniform variations at their disposal. And since the Ducks have had plenty of success on the football field over the last 15 years, their constant appearances in nationally televised games have provided Nike with a steady stream of publicity.
Casey Lewis is the President/CEO of Rhino Digital Media, Inc.