|Mini-Case Study from Center for Applied Research (CFAR).|
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According to Nike company lore, one of the most famous and easily recognized slogans in advertising history was coined at a 1988 meeting of Nike’s ad agency Wieden and Kennedy and a group of Nike employees. Dan Weiden, speaking admiringly of Nike’s can-do attitude, reportedly said, “You Nike guys, you just do it.” The rest, as they say, is (advertising) history.
After stumbling badly against archrival Reebok in the 1980s, Nike rose about as high and fast in the ‘90s as any company can. It took on a new religion of brand consciousness and broke advertising sound barriers with its indelible Swoosh, “Just Do It” slogan and deified sports figures. Nike managed the deftest of marketing tricks: to be both anti-establishment and mass market, to the tune of $9.2 billion dollars in sales in 1997.
“When Nike Goes Cold”
Newsweek, March 30, 1998
The Nike brand has become so strong as to place it in the rarified air of recession-proof consumer branded giants, in the company of Coca-Cola, Gillette and Proctor & Gamble. Brand management is one of Nike’s many strengths. Consumers are willing to pay more for brands that they judge to be superior in quality, style and reliability. A strong brand allows its owner to expand market share, command higher prices and generate more revenue than its competitors. With its “Just Do It” campaign and strong product, Nike was able to increase its share of the domestic sport-shoe business from 18 percent to 43 percent, from $877 million in worldwide sales to $9.2 billion in the ten years between 1988 and 1998. Nike spent $300 million on overseas advertising alone; most of it centered around the “Just Do It” campaign. The success of the campaign is that much more remarkable when one considers that an estimated 80 percent of the sneakers sold in the U.S. are never used for the activities for which they have been designed.
Nike’s marketing tactics in the ‘80s, and in particular its campaign against Reebok, gambled on the idea that the public would accept sneakers as fashion statements. Nike later cashed in on the jogging/fitness craze of the mid 1980s, during which its “Just Do It” campaign expanded to attract the female and teenage consumer, in addition to the stalwart 18 – 40-year-old male consumer. (Nike was losing ground to Reebok during this time, thanks to the explosion of aerobics.) Phil Knight, the founder and CEO of Nike, suffused his company and ads with the idea of the intense, inwardly focused competitor. The ads rarely focused on the product itself, but on the person wearing the product. Heroes and hero worship abound on the Nike campus in Beaverton, Oregon.
The “Just Do It” campaign seemed to capture the corporate philosophy of grit, determination and passion, but also infused it with something hitherto unknown in Nike ads—humor. Nike had always been known for its “detached, determined, unsentimental” attitude. “In a word, [Nike is] cool.”
The new ads retained that attitude, but several of the original 12 “Just Do It” ads incorporate jokes, explicit and implicit, to make their point. The Bo Jackson ad stands out. Jackson is seen working out at several different activities, joking while on a bike machine, “Now when is that Tour de France thing?” and after slam dunking a basketball contemplates “Air Bo.” “I like the sound of that,” he says.
The “Just Do It” campaign received mixed ratings, ranging from “an instant classic” to “sociopathic.” One critic went so far as to say the ads were “an impatient-bordering-on-contemptuous exhortation to the masses. Cool is one thing. Poverty of warmth is another.” Eventually the campaign was credited with embracing not just resolve and purpose, but also the “beauty, drama and moral uplift of sport—even, every now and then, fun.”
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