Marketing 50

Nike Free

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One of the great things about Nike is that the sneaker and apparel company continues to reinvent itself or, at least, its products every chance it gets. Its technological innovations and its advertising are legendary.

But, what's the saying? You can only go to the well so many times? Not in Nike's case. When the Beaverton, Ore., company introduced Nike Free earlier this year, few knew what to think of a sneaker whose claim was to simulate the feeling of running barefoot.

Joaquin Hidalgo, VP-U.S. brand management at Nike, who started his career at Nike in sales in 1990 before becoming VP-global brand director for Nike Soccer, was up for the challenge. A brilliant ad campaign by Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., backed the generally accepted feeling in the running community that training barefoot is supposed to strengthen the foot and minimize injury. The TV component of the campaign was a riff on the famous scene from the film "Chariots of Fire," with a group of men running barefoot on a beach wearing white shorts and white shirts. The spot even included the theme music. Nike execs say Nike Free, among other things, helped spur sales to a record 32% increase in the last quarter.

For an athletic sneaker that takes far more effort on the part of the wearer than other brands-the Nike Free comes with a training manual and a warning to start slowly and wear the shoes around the house for several weeks-you can bet the "Chariots of Fire" knockoff, and a subsequent spot starring some of Nike's big-gun endorsers, had a lot to do with sales.

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