The Times they are a Changin’

Nike has run some of the most memorable advertisements in history, from Charles Barkley’s still controversial “I am not a role model” to the more benign and wonderful “failure” with Michael Jordan. Nike’s advertising strategy from the very beginning has been to associate itself with great sportsmanship and athletics, a difficult task when the products sold are commodities.

The result has made Nike one of the most prestigious brands in history, yet the mediums in which Nike flows are changing quickly. Nike has been no stranger to traditional marketing channels – promotions there have been better than anyones, yet Nike HQ is rapidly changing gears. Spending on TV and print media dropped 40% in 2010, yet overall advertising spent increases reliably year over year.

Where does all the money go? The size of their digital division has doubled, from a humble 100 employees in 2010 to 200 in 2011. The push into online advertising is based on the simplest of principles: follow the consumer. Nike’s core demographic is spending more time online than anywhere else. Advertising to an audience that isn’t watching isn’t a winning strategy by any Marketing 101 textbook.

This also follows a drop in endorsements, upon the realisation that pinning a brand to the gyrations of unstable and somewhat sinister characters like Michael Vick and Tiger Woods has serious downsides. This may seem strange in a time where celebrity worship is stronger than ever, not so much when you look a little closer at a character like Kim Kardashian, one of the most marketable celebrities in the world (and for all the wrong reasons).

All this is backed up by their product range, which is increasingly blended into the digital world. Digital sport went mainstream with Nike+ in 2010, which linked shoes and iPods for running and bio data for post-analysis and online competitions. It had 5 million users in 2011, but that was only the beginning.

Nike Fuel takes movement itself and converts it into a digital currency. Its surprising the biometric data such a simple arm band can produce, discussions are already abound of its influence for the Nike brand, social media and (impressively) medicine. However effective it will be moving forward, the advertising strategy is clear: online is where Nike needs to be in 2012.

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