How Storytelling Is At The Heart Of The Nike Brand

Walk down any city street, and it will only be a matter of minutes – maybe even seconds – before you spot a Nike Swoosh. Over the course of its near 50-year life span the logomark has become a ubiquitous addition to our visual landscape, so easily identified that for half of that time it has stood alone, without supporting typography, to represent the Nike brand.

The mark had relatively humble origins: it was created in 1971 by Portland State University graphic design student Carolyn Davidson as a freelance project for Phil Knight (who taught accounting classes at the school until 1969). The Swoosh first appeared in the same year on a pair of football boots called The Nike, and in 1972 on the first line of Nike footwear produced by Blue Ribbon Sports, the company Knight and Bill Bowerman initially co-founded to distribute athletic shoes from Japan. However, it wasn’t until 1978, as Blue Ribbon Sports ventured further into creating its own designs, that the company changed its name to Nike, Inc. It’s impossible to imagine Davidson – even in her wildest dreams – had any notion that her work would one day be imbued with so much meaning for so many people around the world.

In the 2002 book The Brand Gap, author Marty Neumeier explains that the idea of a brand is little more than a collective amalgam of people’s gut feelings about a product, service, or company. “When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling,” he writes, “a company can be said to have a brand. In other words, a brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Companies that excel at marketing understand that everything they do – every product, every communication, every conceivable point of contact with a customer or potential customer, and even their corporate policies and practices – contributes to this perception. While this has long been the case at Nike, the success of its brand building has come through an ability to foster connection through emotive storytelling.

Top: Air Max advertisement, c 1987-95; Above: Branding development by Carolyn Davidson, 1970s. All images: © Nike, Inc. 

Phil Knight, 1970s 

Original Nike shoebox, c 1971

Teams at Nike have long understood that harnessing emotion in service of storytelling is a far more effective strategy for brand building than rattling off features and benefits. “Why do people get married—or do anything?” Phil Knight posited to the Harvard Business Review in 1992. “Because of emotional ties. That’s what builds long-term relationships with the consumer, and that’s what our campaigns are about. Our advertising tries to link consumers to the Nike brand through the emotions of sports and fitness. We show competition, determination, achievement, fun, and even the spiritual rewards of participating in those activities.”

While at the outset Nike considered itself production oriented, with success or failure predicated on the design and manufacture of innovative products, by the time of the aforementioned Knight interview, the company had undergone an incredibly consequential shift. “We’ve come around to saying that Nike is a marketing-oriented company,” Knight said, “and the product is our most important marketing tool. What I mean is that marketing knits the whole organisation together. The design elements and functional characteristics of the product itself are just part of the overall marketing process.” This new perspective was crucial to the company’s development into one of the most recognisable global brands. Even more remarkable, the shift can be largely attributed to the launch of one of the most consequential designs in Nike’s history: Air Max.

It may seem difficult to comprehend in retrospect, but by the mid-1980s, Nike was in the midst of an identity crisis. The company’s technical, performance-based output was being outpaced by more casual designs and aerobics-based footwear from the competition. Nike’s attempts to branch out had missed the mark. There were layoffs, and the future was by no means certain. Tinker Hatfield – a champion pole-vaulter turned architect turned shoe designer – kept coming back to an idea that had occurred to him in Paris while looking at Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers’s Centre Pompidou.

The Ten: Nike x Virgil Abloh Collection campaign range, 2017 

Spreads from the Phaidon Nike book. Photo: Sean Davidson

Hatfield was struck not only by the juxtaposition of the alien Modernist structure with Paris’s classic Beaux-Arts buildings (and the fact that whether you loved or hated it, you couldn’t help but notice it) but by the architects’ philosophical underpinning. If you could turn a building inside out, why not a pair of shoes? “That gave birth to Visible Air,” the designer recounts. “You could see what made [the Air Max] different, what made it work better, and, therefore, made it more interesting and more overtly storytelling oriented.”

When it came time to launch the Air Max, the organisation knew that it would take more than a great design to overcome the headwinds the business was facing. For the televised campaign, the company turned to now long-time agency partners Wieden + Kennedy, based in Portland, Oregon. Co-directors Paula Greif and Peter Kagan, who had helped define the look and feel of the burgeoning MTV network, were recruited to create a spot that would offer more vibe than narrative.

The briskly paced 60-second advertisement cut grainy Super 8 film of Nike stars Michael Jordan and John McEnroe with footage of amateur athletes, including Nike employees, competing in a variety of sporting events – punctuated repeatedly by a clip of the Air Max Air unit compressing under the weight of a runner’s foot strike. Most notably, the Beatles’ fuzz-drenched and overdriven recording of Revolution blared without interruption for the entirety of the commercial. As Knight explained, “We wanted to communicate not just a radical departure in shoes but a revolution in the way Americans felt about fitness, exercise, and wellness.”

Phaidon Nike book. Photo: Sean Davidson

Unlike anything that had come before, the advertisement struck a chord. It may seem hard to believe now, but at the time original versions of classic songs by famous bands were rarely used in commercials – to say nothing of a smash hit by the most famous band of all time. Although Nike negotiated with Capitol Records and Yoko Ono – who was responsible for her late husband John Lennon’s estate – to use the song, the remaining Beatles, through their publisher, Apple Records, objected to the usage and sued the company for US$15 million. “We got sued, and that made everything even more cool, because Yoko Ono got to fight with the rest of the Beatles,” Hatfield reminisces. “The whole thing hit the market and was like a rocket ship. And Nike really hasn’t stopped growing ever since.”

This is an extract from Nike: Better is Temporary by Sam Grawe, published by Phaidon, £69.95; phaidon.Com

Nike has just been dubbed the world’s most popular sneaker brand, after a recent industry report from market insights company Statista.

The data was gathered by the estimated global market share of the world’s most popular brands in 2022, of which Nike took on 18%, followed by its Jordan Brand counterpart which has 11%, with adidas in third place with 9% of the market.

News that Nike has come out on top is hardly surprising, given its countless repeat collaborations with the likes of Cactus Plant Flea Market, Billie Eilish, Corteiz, Martine Rose, AMBUSH, Drake’s Nocta, Stussy and CLOT, alongside special edition releases like The Powerpuff Girls x Nike SB Dunks and its ever-popular Panda Dunk.

Coming in fourth, Skecher and Vans tie, taking on 7% each of the market share, followed by Moonstar with 5% and New Balance and Converse taking on 4% of the market. The report aims to focus on versatile footwear brands within the realm of sneaker culture and as a result, excludes purely functional athletic footwear like running shoes, football shoes and tennis shoes. As a whole, the report suggests that the sneaker category is currently a $75 billion USD market, with its projected growth expected to hit nearly $100 billion USD in annual sales by the year 2028.

Will Nike continue to hold a majority share as the category continues to grow? It’s hard to tell, but we expect to see more and more sneaker brands changing their ways as a result.

In other footwear news, another Joe Freshgoods x New Balance collaboration is coming.

Nike Promo Codes For August 2023

FAQs Do Nike offer free shipping?

Nike offers free standard shipping to Nike members, but non-members will need to pay $8 per order. You can also opt for ‘No Rush’ deliveries for $7, or free if you’re a Nike member.Can I get a Nike student discount?

Yes, if you’re in full-time education, whether that’s college, school or university, you can save 10% on your orders with the Nike student discount. You can see how to find the best Nike student deals here on Tom’s Guide.What is Nike Refurbished?

The Nike Refurbished website features a range of like-new shoes that you can buy at discounted prices. You’ll find pairs with slight wear or cosmetic damage at reduced prices. If you can look past minor marks or scratches, you’ll save up to 20% off your next purchase.How can I contact Nike?

If you need to get in touch with Nike about an order, you can get support through the live chat feature on its website. You can access it by clicking the ‘Help’ page and clicking the ‘Live Chat’ icon. The Nike customer service can support between 8am – 8pm Monday to Friday and 8am – 5pm on Saturdays.Hints and tips

Watch out for Nike Sales: Nike runs sales throughout the year where they offer up to 50% off items across their range. Keep an eye out for new additions in the sale section, which is updated regularly, especially around holidays like Christmas & Black Friday.

Save with Nike professional discounts: It’s not just students who can save on their footwear. Nike also offers a 10% discount to first responders & military personnel. You’ll need to verify your professional status with a valid military or healthcare email address to be sent your Nike promo codes, which you can do from their website.

Sign up for a Nike Membership: Nike offers a free membership program with a host of benefits. You can sign up via the Nike membership page. Perks include free standard shipping on all orders, rewards on your birthday, access to member-exclusive styles, customizable shoes, invites to events, workshops & workouts, and special members-only promos. You’ll automatically be signed up if you sign up for any of Nike’s free apps, including SNKRS & Run Club.

Join the Nike Newsletter: Sign up for the Nike newsletter to get news and exclusive offers sent directly to your email inbox so you never miss a chance for a saving.How to use Nike promo codes

1. Find a code you’d like to use from the list above, then click ‘Get Code’ to reveal your unique discount code.

2. When you’ve added all the items you’re after to your basket, look for the box marked ‘Enter Promo Code’. 

3. Once you’ve entered your code, click ‘Apply’ and your order total will change to reflect your savings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *