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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Matambo

Nike: A Case Study in Amazing Brand Building

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

Nike holds the title of being the world's leading sports footwear and apparel manufacturer. The brand is currently valued at $15.9 billion and is the world's 13th most valuable brand in 2020. Nike is dominating the market with their signature footwear, apparel, sports equipment, and accessories.

This article will discuss how Nike used its branding and marketing to become the undisputed most valuable sporting brand in the world.

History and Brand DNA

Nike, first know as Blue Ribbon Sports, was founded by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman on 25 January 1964. The company was originally a distributor for Onitsuka Tiger, a Japanese footwear manufacturer. As the company blossomed over the first ten years, the founders thought it best to move from being distributer to becoming manufacturers.

In 1972, Phil Knight was able to launch the brand as we know it today: Nike. He sought after a mighty name that would make people proud to wear his shoes. His love for reading led him to Greek mythology, where he came across the term "Nike" which represented the Goddess of victory. Knight chose this name because he wanted the feeling of pride and triumph to be associated with his brand, and hence, Nike was born.

Interesting fact: the swoosh logo, which is easily one of the most recognisable symbols in the world, was created by Carolyn Davidson for only $35.

Sports Star Sponsorships

As the symbol of success and achievement, Nike sponsors most of the best athletes in all major sports, recently becoming the official uniform supplier for the NBA. Their success with such sponsorship became a significant factor in how the brand positioned itself.

To date, Nike's most lucrative signing was Michael Jordan in 1984. The original Air Jordan 1 with its iconic design and colour scheme is arguably the most important shoe in modern sneaker culture. In every sense, kickstarting the sneaker industry. The sneaker was initially banned for being multicoloured at a time when the NBA regulations only allowed white shoes. This controversy spiked the popularity of the sneaker, making 50,000 pairs of the shoe sell out almost instantly after they were released.

With the Nike Air Jordans, consumers believed they could be like Mike and transcend boundaries like the Jumpman himself.

Since Jordan, Nike has built an impressive roster of superstar athletes who help add credibility to the brand and further enforce its image of excellence to consumers.

Inspirational Advertising

Nike showed they had vision by being among the first adopters of email and internet marketing and using these technologies to create multimedia campaigns that reached a broad audience.

Their defining moment was the success of their "Just Do It" campaign, targeting all Americans and representing their sneakers as a fashion statement. Because of their association with professional athletes, Nike sneakers quickly became a symbol of success and elevated the aspirations of their customers to achieve greatness with each purchase.

Nike ads tend to follow the "hero" archetype: 'suffering through challenges and prevailing against all odds'. They serve to inspire and create meaning for people and gain the attention of the marketplace.

These ads reinforce Nike's brand personality, ultimately leaving customers to conclude that if they wear Nike shoes, they will embody this "hero" personality. In essence, wearing the brand makes the customers believe they are different; they are hard workers and are overachievers.

Constant Innovation

From their early years, Bill Bowerman instilled a culture of constant innovation, which is one of the reasons Nike is considered a market leader today. Nike goes for both substance and style, incorporating a variety of colours which make them stand out to their target audience.

A famous innovation success story is their Flykinit Technology, which is a new lightweight material that fits like a sock, gives more support to the foot, and is more breathable for the athlete.

This innovativeness helps Nike stay ahead of its competitors and helps them improve their offerings.

Unapologetic Stance on Causes

Due to their approach of being a source of inspiration which gives them global appeal, Nike can contribute positively to causes.

The most recent example of this is Nike's unapologetic support for Colin Kaepernick in the 2018 kneeling controversy.

Nike also has an ambassador program where it allows 5,700 of its employees to participate in educating children to be healthy and having more active lifestyles.

Because Nike makes its views clear, it attracts people who believe in the same values and helps the brand form a strong emotional relationship with its customers. This builds a community around the brand, who act as its advocates to the broader world.

Transition Into Luxury

Dominating the footwear and apparel industry, it goes without saying that Nike, though not considered a luxury brand, sits comfortably around them. Nike views their shoes as a post-modern art and seeks to create shoes that change their industry. The brand is continuously expanding its portfolio into the luxury market and is making wins in that department.

For instance, Nike collaborated with the likes of Virgil Abloh and released Nike X Off-White sneakers carrying price tags over $1,000 each.

Another brand that decided to "Just Do It" was Comme des Garcons, a brand not commonly known for collaborations, partnered with Nike to release the CDG X Nike Air Max 180S.

Though met with scepticism and predicted to be a flop, in true Nike style and colour, these collaborations all proved to be successful and helped cement Nike's brand as a dominant force in the footwear and apparel industry. In future, we can predict that Nike will engage in more collaborations with luxury brands.


Over the last few decades, Nike has maintained its strong brand presence and established itself as a marketing leader. Transitioning from being a sports brand that sells shoes to a sports lifestyle brand that embodies success, excellence, and dominance.

And the keys to their success:

  • Strong brand history and DNA

  • Strategic sponsorships

  • Innovative and creative culture

  • Consistent messaging

  • Inspirational advertising

  • Clever brand extensions.


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