Let us continue our analysis of Nike that we started last week when we looked at the birth of the brand (Nike: Birth of a brand): how a brand of sports shoes, built up from the outset as an Expert Brand (one that knows athletes best, as it said on the first shoeboxes: "Nike sports shoes are manufactured to the exact specifications of champion athletes throughout the world") became a Visionary Brand from the late 80's.
To find the answer, it is worth studying a chart: the evolutions in Nike and Reebok sales between 1980 and 1995. Why Reebok? Because Nike completely missed out in the "aerobics" movement that emerged in the US in the early 80's. Locked in their purist and rigid idea of sports and athletes, Nike executives regarded this movement as dancing, only requiring casual wear: For them, aerobics was not a sport. They were reluctant to enter the "sissy fashion" market. Reebok - a company in total disarray at the time - quickly grasped the interest of this market and capitalised on it very quickly – in particular with the launch of an elegant model (the 'Freestyle'), stylish, supple and comfortable – and white. Within the space of five years (1986) Reebok overtook Nike in the sports shoes market.
But we see that Reebok's dominance was short-lived: in 1990 Nike took over the top spot in the US market and then widened the gap. How does one explain this new domination?
Of course there was the 'Air' technology, the arrival of Michael Jordan (late 1984) and the launch of Air Jordan. But stopping short at a single product, innovation or athlete was not enough. The real revolution came through advertising - but it took several years to truly achieve it.
In 1983 Nike launched the first advertising campaign for a sports shoe brand on television in anticipation of the 1984 Olympic games in Los Angeles ... but without displaying a single product. The reason was simple: none of the Nike products was truly competitive. It was decided (with Chiat/Day, Apple's ad agency) to feature the athletes - Carl Lewis, John McEnroe, Mary Decker, and others.
But this initial effort was not enough: in 1984 Nike laid off 400 people, about 10% of its employees. Then 500 people again in December 1986. And the rise of Reebok continued.
The real accelerator was the meeting with the Wieden & Kennedy agency in 1987. Legend has it that Phil Knight, during his first meeting with Dan Wieden, said to him: "I'm Phil Knight and I hate advertising".
We'll see next week how the work of this agency transformed Nike into a Visionary Brand – building on the values of the brand and giving them a strong cultural dimension (the ad 'There is no finish line' shown above dates back to 1972 - all the values of the brand are already depicted here).