Phil Knight, Nike’s CEO and founder, has been at the cutting edge of advertising for the past 15 years. Campaigns like “Bo Knows”, “Just do it” and “Air Jordan” represent ground breaking strategies that have changed the face of the advertising industry. I recently watched a documentary on Knight produced by CNBC. The show highlighted the history of the company’s successes and towards the end they interview Dan Weiden of Weiden & Kennedy the agency responsible for Nike’s advertising. Dan made some interesting comments on the future of the company’s advertising investments.
Weiden who is credited as having to hard sell Knight on the benefits of using television advertising, gives a candid explanation for why he feels the brand achieved its incredible success. One of the most interesting points Weiden noted was the invention of the tag line “Just do it”, 3 words that are now synonymous with the brand. The line was invented to unify a series of television commercial that were in Weiden’s word disconnected. “Just Do It” was the common ground used to tie these together. Its original intended use was quickly eclipsed by an overwhelming viral explosion of popularity created by the general public. People saw the tag line as something much bigger than that. It became part of a social and cultural statement that help change people’s lives.
At that time the power of the right words and the right medium help fuel a ground swell of brand identity for Nike. Today, because of media fragmentation and changing consumption patterns the company would have a much more difficult time reaching the same level of critical mass seen in the “Just Do It” campaign. Weiden noted that the changing media landscape has Nike investing heavily into online communities. One of the company’s recent successes, Nike Plus is an integration of high tech and digital marketing.
Going back to Nike’s roots of running, Knight and his marketing geniuses devised an online strategy that leverages the tight knit running community and brings them online. Nike Plus is an integrated solution that allows runners to measure their running achievements and share the results with their group or the whole Nike running community. Its simplicity and integration with the Apple Ipod has help the community to become the world’s largest running club. As of February 2008 the site has logged over 14 million runs equating to 50 million miles.
So why is Nike Plus working? It’s community is simply an extension of something that has existed in another form for the past 50 years. Having been involved with the running community for more than 30 years, Knight recognized the opportunity to create a unique online experience. Nike Plus does a great job of marrying technology to lifestyle and the basic competitive instinct. With the help of graphs and challenges Nike Plus members can work on achieving their own goals or satisfy their competitive thirst by challenging others in the community. What makes this so uber cool is Knight didn’t really invent anything new. He simply extended a behavior that has existed in the running community for years and made the playing field global. What once use to happen in a local running club is now happening online and the world has become a bit smaller as result.
When searching for info on Nike Plus I came across a great You Tube ad that exemplified how the delivery of Nike’s advertising is changing. The ad is focused on technology and the Nike Plus experience. Nike product is subtly promoted through the changing wardrobe, but the objective is clear. Drive runners online to learn about Nike Plus. It’s a courageous investment that has obviously paid off for the brand.
Both Weiden and Knight realize the power of this approach to the Nike brand. As a result Nike is investing more money in identifying new opportunities to build online community. In a very recent interview on e-consultancy Chris Shimojina, Nike Digital Marketing boss, was asked about Nike’s approached to social networks. Chris answered “Nike is very active in making sure we have the right digital channels cultivated. But we are still learning. I don’t think we have quite cracked the code yet. Social networks are a growing channel and we need to understand it better. You have to have an idea of a product story that matches your core market. Start with the right product, listen to your customers, test and learn.” Despite the company’s success with Nike Plus, they still see themselves as just learning how to leverage the social media space. As I struggle to convince the world of the potential in the social media space, it is somehow comforting to know that a marketing giant like Nike still hasn’t “cracked the code”!