Marketer A-List 2012

Nike's High Volt-Age Marketing Gets Results

Neon-Colored Star of London Games Proved That Effective Ambush Marketing Need Not Be Inelegant

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Can you have it all? Nike seems to.

A good year for sports meant a good year for sports companies. While the UEFA Euro 2012 brought big gains for Nike , where it sponsored eight of the 16 countries that participated in the soccer championship, the biggest win of the year arguably came from the London Olympics.

Though not an official sponsor, Nike stole the show at the Games. It started off on a good foot, as the official outfitter for the U.S. Olympic team, from village wear to athletic uniforms. But it also pulled off a spectacular ambush, encompassing everything from an ad campaign that emphasized the greatness found in the other Londons of the world to the neon wash that spread over the Games courtesy of the brand's Flyknit shoe in the "Volt" color. Nike proved that ambush marketing doesn't always have to be garish and inelegant.

Nike also chose the world's biggest sporting stage to premiere not just the Flyknit shoe but another of its newest and smartest product innovations, the dimpled TurboSpeed tracksuit. Working closely with its product team, the brand created a "track-to-street " mechanism that allowed the products to be available in stores at the same time as elite athletes wore them in Olympic events.

That is what Nike does so well. It melds the aspirational with the attainable. Its digital products, which are driving its business, do the same thing. "We have to ask, how do we create everyday interaction with our brand?" said KeJuan Wilkins, North American media director.

Nike just does it with products such as the Cannes Grand Prix-winning FuelBand, the activity-tracking wristband that lets users measure their activity levels and convert them into Nike Fuel points. As Cannes Cyber juror and AKQA Chief Creative Officer Rei Inamoto remarked, it was the sign of a brand shifting from storytelling to behavior. What happens with something like the FuelBand, or one of Nike 's other digital innovations, such as Nike Plus Basketball, is that it creates a trusting relationship between the brand and the consumer, said Mr. Wilkins. "[Consumers] understand that you get them, because [Nike is ] providing something they need," he said. "The more we can do for [consumers], the more they are inclined to be in touch with you." And of course, the more active Nike 's consumers get, the more they will buy.

Nike is also putting more muscle behind its retail operations, transforming spaces into what it calls "Brand Experience Stores" that offer services and game-like setups in larger spaces. It's an effort by the company to sell more directly to consumers. In 2012, only $3 billion of Nike 's $24 billion in revenue came from sales directly to consumers. "A key part of our growth strategy is to expand [our] retail footprint," said Mr. Wilkins. "We do that by combining traditional retail with elements unique to Nike ."