Nike Inc.

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In 1964, Phil Knight founded Blue Ribbon Sports, the predecessor of Nike, to market Japanese running shoes. Blue Ribbon's first advertising was a printed "handout" designed by Mr. Knight and headlined, "Best news in flats: Japan challenges European track shoe domination." The handout's copy explained that low Japanese labor costs made it possible for the company to offer the shoes at the modest price of $6.95. The flier concluded with Mr. Knight's home address in Portland, Ore., and a phone number.

In 1977, John Brown & Partners, Seattle, created a print ad titled "There Is No Finish Line," which concluded with the tagline, "Beating the competition is relatively easy. Beating yourself is a never-ending commitment." Despite such campaigns, Mr. Knight was unconvinced of the power of advertising.

In the late 1970s, posters by Art Director Denny Strickland at Brown featured basketball players such as George Gervin ("The Iceman Cometh") as well as 22 basketball players—members of Nike's "Pro Club"—dressed up as "The Supreme Court."

Although it parted ways with Brown in 1979, Nike continued to seek dynamic representations of the athletes the company had signed to wear and endorse its shoes. Advertising for Nike was managed in-house by Peter Moore until 1982, when Mr. Moore called on Dan Wieden, then a copywriter for William Cain Inc., to create ads for the company.

Signing rookie Michael Jordan

Mr. Wieden and David Kennedy, both creatives at Cain, started Wieden & Kennedy in 1982 in Portland. In 1984, Nike signed Michael Jordan, then a rookie with the NBA's Chicago Bulls and captain of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, to a five-year contract for a reported $2.5 million. The "Air Jordan" campaign Wieden developed around Mr. Jordan solidified Nike's position as the leading athletic shoe and launched Mr. Jordan as one of the most successful of product endorsers. When Entertainment Weekly magazine listed the 50 greatest commercials of all time, Nike was one of only three companies with two spots on the list.

In 1987, Nike became the first company to license music by the Beatles ("Revolution") for its advertising. In 1988, Wieden developed "Just Do It" for Nike, ranked No. 4 by Advertising Age on its list of the best advertising of the 20th century. The following year, the agency created "Spike & Mike," featuring Mr. Jordan and film director Spike Lee, as well as "Bo Knows," which showcased versatile athlete Bo Jackson playing a variety of sports as well as the musician Bo Diddley.

In 1995, Wieden introduced "HIV Positive," which featured marathon runner Ric Munoz, the first TV spot to use an HIV-positive person as a role model. The next year, the shop created "Good vs. Evil," which featured soccer greats from around the world facing off against the forces of evil. The spot was rife with scenes of violence (both on the field and in the stands), and its menacing tone caused it to be banned from Scandinavian TV.

Nike was also one of the first companies to celebrate women in sports, with a 1995 commercial titled "If You Let Me Play" that featured young girls talking about the benefits society reaps when females participate in sports, such as higher academic performance by girls in school, fewer teen-age pregnancies and a reduction in male violence targeted at women.

"Why sport?"

In September 2000, Nike debuted a new ad campaign during the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympic Games in Australia. The campaign featured three spots, each asking the question "Why sport?" One spot answered that question by showing Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong using his powerful lungs to provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a downed circus elephant, while another showed a skateboarder using his board skills to outmaneuver a Roman gladiator bent on dicing the boarder into pieces.

The other spot in the campaign, "Horror," featured U.S. Olympic runner Suzy Hamilton in a parody of teen "slasher" movies. In the spot, Ms. Hamilton used her athletic abilities to outrun the chainsaw-wielding attacker, who eventually doubled over from exhaustion and gives up the chase. The tagline read: "Why sport? You'll live longer." The spot, however, disturbed some viewers who didn't recognize it as a spoof, and the network pulled it.

Other campaigns of the new millennium included "Just," a revisiting of the celebrated "Just do it"; "Freestyle," which featured basketball players bouncing a ball and scuffing their feet to a frenetic and pounding rhythm; and "Move," a campaign that celebrated the shared movements and emotions of various sports.

But perhaps the company's, and Wieden's, most visually stunning commercial came in 2004 and featured six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Accompanied by piano music, the commercial shows Mr. Armstrong training on his bicycle and attracting legions of fans—human and otherwise—to follow in his trail.

Nike also maintained its standing as a major player in endorsements. The sneaker and apparel giant will become a corporate sponsor and apparel provider to the U.S. Olympic Committee in 2005, replacing Adidas.

It continued to sign top athletes to endorse its wares. In 2003, the company inked deals with National Basketball Association rookies LeBron James ($90 million) and Carmelo Anthony ($15 million); NBA star Kobe Bryant ($45 million); tennis superstar Serena Williams ($40 million); 14-year-old U.S. soccer phenom Freddy Adu ($1 million); and Canadian world champion hurdler Perdita Felicien ($1 million). Those deals, totally $192 million over the next several years, came in addition to existing multimillion-dollar deals already in place with golf star Tiger Woods, football's Michael Vick, baseball's Derek Jeter, track's Marion Jones and soccer's Mia Hamm.

Nike estimated its total endorsement commitments for 2004 would be $338.6 million, 53.6% higher than the $220.3 million it paid out in 2003. At the same time, by third quarter 2004, Nike's stock was up 60.1% since dropping to a 52-week low of $42.38 in February 2003. By contrast, main competitor Reebok's stock was up 37%.

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