The brand’s universal appeal is achieved by getting inside sport at a
local level, Jim Davies says.
The current issue of the Face magazine includes a four-page article on
the sportswear manufacturer, Nike, proclaiming it to be ’the most
important clothing brand of the century’.
You certainly can’t accuse the Face of sitting on the fence with that
comment, but it’s not difficult to see why Nike is eulogised in this
Founded in 1964 by Phil Knight, a former university track star, and Bill
Bowerman, who had been his coach, the company has somehow managed to
achieve mainstream acceptance without losing street credibility.
In 1995, Nike posted worldwide sales of dollars 4.7 billion (dollars 2.9
billion in the US and dollars 980 million in Europe). Footwear accounted
for about dollars 3.5 billion of this sum. How-ever, the ’apparel’
sector caught up fast, growing an astonishing 53 per cent in 1995.
Knight is looking for an overall growth in sales of 15 per cent per year
over the next five years which would bring sales up to around dollars 12
billion. This is a company with confidence.
There are three major factors underpinning the company’s success - the
quality of its products, its sponsorship of key athletes in local
markets, and last, but certainly not least, the way it manages its
global advertising campaigns.
With the exception of the UK, Nike’s advertising is handled entirely by
Wieden and Kennedy, the Oregon-based agency whose roster of clients
includes Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Miller Brewing. The relationship
started in 1982, and apart from a brief fling with Chiat Day around the
time of the 1984 Olympics, for a decade and a half Nike has remained
faithful to the agency which coined the seminal ’Just do it’ slogan.
Wieden and Kennedy also has an 85-strong European office in Amsterdam,
plus smaller outposts (often one-man or one-woman operations) in Paris,
Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan and Australia. This allows the agency to
have an ear to the ground in the various territories, which can tune in
to the nuances of a particular market and deliver relevant
’We produce different advertising for different parts of the world; it’s
an ever-evolving model,’ Jim Ward, the global account director for Nike
at Wieden and Kennedy, explains. ’It’s crucial for us to get right
inside a sport - and sports tend to vary regionally.
So we have different objectives in different countries. We leverage the
key assets in athletes who are locally relevant. The majority of our
marketing work is locally driven.’
Ben Simonds-Gooding, Wieden and Kennedy’s Amsterdam-based account
director for Nike, adds one small proviso: ’The athletes we pick have to
be good enough - kids are incredibly savvy. If their particular local
hero doesn’t cut it with the rest of the global superstars we’re using,
it won’t wash.’ He points to the spectacular ’wall’ commercial, in which
murals depicting soccer stars in different parts of the world have a
cosmic kickabout, with the ball screaming across the globe and back
again. One of the players didn’t quite make the grade (we won’t mention
any names, but the sportsperson was German) which, he believes, slightly
detracted from the credibility of the ad.
There are some ’global icons’ whose popularity ’transcends national
boundaries’, as Ward puts it. ’Michael Jordan is even popular with
children in China - he’s a truly global asset,’ he says. The world’s
greatest ever basketball player, Jordan was the inspiration for the
now-classic Air Jordan shoe, launched in 1985. Having led the Chicago
Bulls to their third successive NBA championship in 1993, he retired
from professional basketball to try his hand - with no small measure of
success - at baseball. He then made a surprise return to basketball in
1995, starring in a new string of commercials for Nike.
’Basketball fans worship Michael Jordan. Some of that reverence has worn
off on the shoes,’ Peter Bracegirdle, the account director at Simons
Palmer Clemmow Johnson, says. This agency uniquely handles around a
quarter of all advertising (by media spend) in its home market, the UK.
Campaigns featuring Jordan and various other internationally recognised
sports personalities tend to be screened all over the world.
Tiger Woods, the controversial US golfer, is the latest recruit to be
foisted on to the world stage.
Advertising may be tailored to local markets, but Nike’s brand values
remain consistent across the board. ’The soul of the brand is always
there,’ Ward says. But what exactly does this ’soul’ consist of? ’It’s
hard to quantify,’ Ward says. ’In fact, we avoid quantifying it because
that’s very limiting. We want it to remain flexible. But if I had to
mention some qualities that Nike stands for, it would be athletic
performance, passion and being right inside sport.’
And what does he reckon are the classic Nike campaigns? ’How long have
you got?’ Ward finally narrows it down to the original Michael Jordan
’air technology’ ads from the mid-80s; the ’Bo knows’ campaign,
featuring Bo Jackson, which introduced the concept of the cross-trainer,
’the Spike ’n’ Mike’ ad starring Spike Lee and Michael Jordan and the
’revolution’ commercial which may have prompted a law suit from the
Beatles, but ’caught a moment in time’.
Simonds-Gooding - whose brief is to increase Nike’s presence within
soccer - raves about the ’good vs evil’ spot, aired extensively during
Euro 96, as well as various lesser-known press campaigns by prominent
avant-garde designers which ran in Europe.
’Nike is a fantastic client,’ he says. ’They are more than happy to take
risks - most people simply wouldn’t let us do what they do.’
Ward, as well as the agency’s copywriting president and co-founder, Dan
Wieden, Wieden and Kennedy’s global strategy planner, Claire Grossman,
and the creative directors, Jim Riswold and John Jay, spend a
significant proportion of their time abroad, making sure Nike’s presence
in foreign markets is up to scratch. ’It’s vital that the left arm and
the right arm know what’s going on,’ Ward says.
One thing they all neglected to mention, however, is the distinctive
Nike ’swoosh’ logo, which over the years has become a graphic shorthand
for the company - and which is instantly recognised all over the
It has become a precious asset, even more so when you realise that it
was designed in the late 60s by a graduate student called Carolyn
Davidson. She was paid dollars 35 for her efforts.