Just do it!

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on July 25, 2008

Nike celebrates two decades of tagline resonance

Nike’s theme and tagline, “Just Do It”, has been resonating among consumer athletes and would-be athletes for 20 years. Last week the company launched a commemorative anniversary campaign for the tagline online that quickly expanded to television in some markets. The video campaign goes full bore August 8th to coincide with the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics and includes 25 simultaneous in-person events post-Olympics.

Dubbed “Courage ”, the campaign demonstrates two important principles of effective brand marketing: 1) the benefits of consistency in brand strategy; and, 2) the benefits of non-traditional communication channels; in this case, the web and in-person event branding. The campaign also shows that while television advertising continues to dominate brand communication in terms of investment, its share of media is declining to developing as well as developed markets.

There are three primary benefits of consistency in brand strategy over time: 1) position ownership; 2) identity symbol ownership; and, 3) cost efficiencies. These benefits explain why dominant brands such as Coca-Cola, Microsoft, IBM, GE, and Nokia – BusinessWeek’s 2007 Top Global Brands – year-after-year, decade-after-decade mostly communicate their brand identities as originally conceptualized.

Position ownership is when the brand defines a market niche in the perception of customers or clients. Coca-Cola “owns” the cola market; Microsoft the desktop market; IBM the solutions market; GE defines quality of life; and Nokia dictates trends in mobile telephony and lifestyle. Nike dominates the market for athletic shoes much to the chagrin of other quality manufacturers.

Enduring identity symbol ownership enables the market to associate the brand with a symbol that communicates brand attributes and values visually. The Coca-Cola bottle is prominent in its brand communications, and its logo is ubiquitous. A good Asian example of symbol ownership is Singapore Airlines’ Singapore Girl, who has dominated the airline’s marketing communications and advertising for half a century. In Nike’s case, the swoosh symbol combined with the tagline “Just Do It”, still provides an almost adrenalin rush.

The company has also relied heavily on celebrity endorsers to generate visibility and goodwill for the brand. Michael Jordan is the most prominent of a long string of top athletes that endorse the company and use its products in actual competition. So it’s no surprise that the anniversary campaign extends the benefit of personal brand alignment with the Nike corporate brand. In all, 31 star athletes are featured in the Courage campaign.

Although Nike invests heavily it its celebrity endorsers, it is able to do so in part because for most of the 20 years “Just Do It” has been its tagline the company has been engaged in maintaining visibility and recall, not building it. It is far less expensive to maintain visibility than it is to undertake a brand building campaign. Companies that regularly rebrand themselves must invest more than their strategically branded competitors.

In sustaining visibility, Nike liberally leverages below-the-line strategies. The company is not sponsoring the Olympics – which can involve an investment of hundreds of millions of dollars over several years – but the Nike Swoosh symbol and its tagline will be omnipresent. According to an Advertising Age report, the company is “outfitting 22 Chinese federations, the U.S. basketball team, and U.S. track and field athletes, as well as athletes from 100 other countries” whose images will be broadcast around the world.

That kind of visibility not only costs significantly less than sponsorship, it is more credible for Olympics fans to see athletes using Nike shoes, sportswear, and other equipment in competition than to communicate through advertisements that are clearly paid for by the company. The real proof of quality is what athletes use Nike shoes to win their events this year.

At the end of August following the Olympics, Nike is organizing a 10k event to be conducted in 25 locations in the U.S. According to Advertising Age, Nike expects one million runners around the world to participate and “experience the brand”.

To understand the significance of the online launch and the 10k run events, consider that in 2009 digital adspend is expected to surpass television adspend in the U.K. and newspaper adspend in China. These developments demonstrate the increasing impact of the web in building brand visibility. Nike is using the web to as a video repository, as well as its launch vehicle. And you can be sure that the August 10k events, The Nike Plus Human Race, will include a significant web component.

Nike has maintained its strategic brand identity for two decades, but the way it sustains visibility is continually refined to reflect emerging technologies and the effectiveness of non-traditional communication channels. They “Just Do It”.

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