There are few corporate logos as universally recognised as the Nike swoosh and perhaps that single little image has been at least partly responsible for the brand’s enormous success. Nike has proved itself to be a trend setting brand with great drive and Nike’s enduring popularity has been really quite something when you think about it.
The company was founded in 1964 by track and field coach Bill Bowerman and middle distance runner Phil Knight. As both partners came from athletic backgrounds their focus from the outset was on innovation but few could have predicted where the fledging company called Blue Ribbon Sports would end up, especially as it started as merely a distributor for Japanese brand Onitsuka Tiger.
A New Name
After seven years as a distributor it was time to move away from Onitsuka. Bowerman and Knight were ready to begin producing their own sporting footwear and felt that their company needed a change of name to partner their new direction. They settled on Nike, the Greek goddess of victory. That iconic swoosh was created for them by a design student and the rest is history.
Success to Success
The first Nike Athletic shoe was actually modelled on Onitsuka Tiger’s Corsair style but was given a revolutionary new lightweight sole. The shoe required a little tweaking as it turned out but Nike were about to make their mark and have never looked back since. Of course the range has expanded somewhat since that first shoe and now Nike produces a comprehensive range of athletic apparel and has several divisions devoted to specific sports.
Unfortunate Brand Ambassadors
In terms of its products and marketing Nike have barely put a foot wrong in 50 years except, perhaps, for some of their choices of brand ambassadors and sponsored athletes. Not so long ago they experienced a really quite appalling run of bad luck when one sporting hero after another fell dramatically from grace. Nike naturally would have a hard time predicting such a run but it does seem that they made poor choices in working with Tiger Woods, Lance Armstrong and Marion Jones.
Nike may have thought that their troubles were over after three of their superstars proved to be love cheats and drug cheats but things were about to get a whole lot worse. I doubt if anyone at Nike could believe their eyes when the news broke that Oscar Pistorius had killed his girlfriend. At this point it must have felt like Nike were actually cursed. They must have done a stellar job of damage limitation because these terrible episodes do not seem to have revealed a chink in the Nike armour. I bet that the team are a little more cautious about who they sponsor now though!
Nike is one of the great success stories of the last 50 years. A company that had the most humble of beginnings but which hit the spot with the right name, the right image and the right products. One wonders what they will manage to do next.
Article by Sally Stacey