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Tracking Brand Nike's Run to Iconic Status
By: Jeff Louis
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Blue Ribbon Sports was founded in Oregon of all places. That's not to say anything negative about the state. I remember Oregon with a single word: green. I think it must rain every day unless it snows, and the trees are huge. Most Americans wouldn't think of Oregon as being the birthplace of an athletic shoe company, but that's what happened.

When I think of Oregon and exercise, images of scaling mountains, skiing, and tree-felling contests come to mind. Thus, it's an odd place for two men, one a track athlete (Phillip Knight), the other his coach (Bill Bowerman), to start peddling running shoes.

Knight and Bowerman originally conceived Blue Ribbon Sports as an outlet for a Japanese running shoe named the Onitsuka Tiger. Lacking a formal storefront, they sold most of the shoes at track meets from the back of Knight's car. Two guys selling shoes from the back of a car sounds like the un-American Dream. Yawn. While millions of business ventures came and went without notice, Blue Ribbon Sports survived the early years and opened their first retail outlet in Santa Monica in 1966. 

When the Onitsuka Tiger ran its course by 1971, Blue Ribbon Sports was left without a unique product to sell. Instead of searching out a new supplier, the two entrepreneurs decided to manufacture their own shoes. Failure seemed imminent, for two track lovers to morph into successful businessmen and manufacturers seemed a stretch. Blue Ribbon took what seemed their first step on the track to failure. 

Despite the challenges ahead, the duo readied their athletic footwear line for its debut. Knight was teaching accounting class and ran into Portland State University design student Carolyn Davidson. Knight asked Davidson for her help, and she agreed. He wasn't impressed.

"I don't love it," Knight told her, "but I think it will grow on me."

Davidson's design represented the wing on a statue of the Greek Goddess of Victory: Nike. The future was written.

Now one of the most recognizable logos on the planet, the Nike "Swoosh" cost Blue Ribbon Sports $35, and they patented their new corporate identity in 1972.

To consumers, Nike portrays the anti-corporation; the company is bold and proactive. Like their fans, they play to win. In stark contrast to other corporations, Nike innately understands branding, with iconic campaigns from Air Jordan to "Just do it" as proof.

Simply, Nike gets it. "It" being the fact that emotional advertising is effective. Whether championing the rights of women runners or launching guerilla ad campaigns at major sporting events, Nike tugs at the competitive spirit of athletes, selling a challenging lifestyle instead of sportswear.

Nike tells a story with every ad. Some of their best creative is a minute or lo, and many never aired in the U.S. The tales spun are filled with both victory and defeat, triumph and loss. Many end with unknown outcomes. Above all, Nike advertisements are generational, depicting the hopes of millions, competitive to their core.

So, when Nike claims they've just made their best ad ever, we should watch it. In the celebration of the FIFA World Cup, the ad was released on YouTube, and its views have skyrocketed. It's worth three minutes of your life and undoubtedly will rank as the company's best effort.

In this highly entertaining spot, "Write the Future," Nike doesn't suggest waiting around. 



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About the Author

Jeff Louis: Media Planner, Brand Project Manager, blogger, and aspiring writer. Please leave a comment or get in touch with Jeff on Twitter. As always, thank you for reading!

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