My Family Will Swoosh for Nike
My Family Will Swoosh for Nike
Commercialism and the Family
By: Jamie Linton
Date: March 31, 1999
Source: Linton, Jamie. "My Family Will Swoosh for Nike." Ottawa Citizen (March 31, 1999).
About the Author: Jamie Linton is a freelance journalist based in Ontario, Canada. The Ottawa Citizen is a daily newspaper founded in 1845 and owned by the media consortium CanWest Global.
The use of a particular logo, emblem, or other corporate brand to publicize a consumer product is a venerable and proven marketing technique. While the traditional notions of product utility, reliability, and value remain important factors in the ability of a manufacturer or service provider to successfully promote a consumer product, the product image as conveyed by its brand has become an essential aspect of modern marketing.
'Branding' is the conversion of a corporate name, slogan, or logo into a distinct and freestanding entity. The corporate brand is often marketed to the consumer in a fashion that renders it distinct from the product itself.
Many of the oldest known corporate brands have endured through generations of consumers and a variety of shifts in consumer tastes and attitudes. The Michelin Man, also known as Bibendum, has been a cornerstone of the Michelin Tire manufacturing empire since it was first unveiled at a Lyon exhibition in 1894. The Converse All Star running shoes, featuring the distinctive ankle patch and the signature of basketball player Chuck Taylor, the long time Converse ambassador, have displayed this logo since the early 1920s. Products such as Rolex watches and Cartier jewelry rely upon the cachet established through association with their name to achieve a similar effect.
Among the most successful examples of corporate branding in the history of marketing is that of Nike shoes and the company's use of basketball star Michael Jordan as its chief advertising symbol. After Jordan became the featured Nike representative in 1985, Nike sales grew dramatically, both in its home American markets as well as on a global basis. Jordan, both as embodied in the stylized logo of his basketball dunking form, and through marketing slogans such as 'Be Like Mike', became one of the most recognizable humans on the planet. The Nike symbols themselves became the icons of American, and later global, culture. The power of the Nike logo and its marketing was such that Jordan became one of the first athletes to earn more money from his participation in the process of corporate brand development than he earned from playing his chosen sport.
Unlike traditional sporting goods advertising campaigns, where the manufacturer tended to focus upon the ability of the product to assist the athlete in the improvement of their overall performance, the ground breaking Nike approach with its focus upon Michael Jordan devoted proportionately little time to the physical characteristics of the equipment. Nike enjoyed tremendous success through its cause and effect type association with Jordan.
The enduring success of the Nike branding campaign is evidenced by the fact that Jordan continues to be a feature in Nike advertisements, and notwithstanding his retirement from professional basketball in 2001, Jordan's name is synonymous with Nike in a way that Chuck Taylor was the personification of Converse in an earlier and less complicated consumer era. Michael Jordan is unquestionably one of the most famous Americans who has ever lived.
In the modern world, it is virtually impossible for consumers to avoid the marketing strategy that may be summarized as brand first, product second.
My wife and I have decided to develop a new business strategy for our family. As of now, we are officially looking for a suitable corporate sponsor. Forget working like dogs and trying to make ends meet. That old-fashioned stuff is for losers. We're aiming to be the world's first Nike Family. Failing that, we will accept Disney, RJR Nabisco, Tommy Hilfiger, Liz Claiborne, Roots, Loblaw, Microsoft, Ford, or the Bank of Montreal.
This was my idea, but I admit that it didn't just come out of the blue. The University of Ottawa football program inspired me. Recently, it was announced that the football Gee Gees have cut a deal with Nike U.S.A. According to newspaper reports, nearly half of their program costs are to be covered by Nike. They get new uniforms, shoes and practice jerseys and will even be able to tuck away a portion of the profits from the Nike products they sell. All for merely displaying the "swoosh" logo on their jerseys.
Now that's a deal.
This happy state of affairs contrast sharply with the fate of the other university football program in the nation's capital. The poor Carleton Ravens squad was forced into extinction because it was costing the university too much. Too bad they didn't get a suitable corporate sponsor in time.
With the decline of virtually every publicly funded program in existence, the ever-increasing cost of living and growing sovereignty of those kind and generous corporations, the strategy of getting yourself a suitable corporate sponsor only makes sense. And judging from the swash of corporate logos all over the uniforms, hats, vest, cars, boats, kit bags, tackle boxes and accessories of more and more athletes, teams, entertainers, and personage of various kinds, I'm not the only one who thinks this way.
Of course, generous as they are, corporations like Nike don't sponsor just anybody. You have to be good. In fact, you have to be the best. Nike doesn't want its swoosh appearing on the shoulders of losers. That's why my family is in training to become the best damn little family in the western world.
I'll let you in on our secret training regimen: We wake at 05:00 and watch Disney movies together until 06:00. This gives our family a strong moral foundation. Thanks to Disney, we know our roles and we develop the perfect North American idiom. From 06:00 to 07:00 we exercise our bodies. Nothing but Nike products touches our flesh.
We then eat a healthy breakfast of products manufactured in various parts of the world by RJR Nabisco. (In the interests of luring RJR Nabisco as a corporate sponsor, my wife and I were prepared to smoke a token cigarette each Sunday evening. Fortunately, they sold their tobacco division to a Japanese company last month.)
During the working-school hours of the day, we are trained not to think, say or do anything that could be construed as offensive to anyone. We are very bullish about what we wear, however: Tommy Hilfiger for me, Liz Clai-borne for my wife, and Roots all around for the kids.
At suppertime, we consume as many processed foods as possible, as these conveniently come in boxes with the brand names clearly displayed. In any case, it all originates from Loblaw. (The whole family shops there every Thursday evening. The kids actually think the food comes from machines in the back, behind the deli section.)
The evenings are ours to enjoy as a family. This is our own, special time, for which we assiduously guard our privacy. I am proud to divulge, however, that we relax with Microsoft computer products and take care not to let the kids surf the net alone.
On weekends, we tend to shop. Our Ford Mountain Master practically knows it own way to all the respectable malls. We avoid the inner city and the countryside, as it wouldn't do to have that gorgeous machine get dented or muddied. (One never knows when the Ford people might come calling.)
We have been in training for some time now and everything is going swimmingly. We need a corporate sponsor soon, though, as it costs a fortune for a family to compete at this level. That's where the Bank of Montreal comes in. Let me tell you, the kind people there have been only too happy to help us in our effort to become the perfect North American family.
If there are any corporate executives out there who happen to read this little article and like what you hear, please get in touch with me through the Citizen. Oh God! I nearly forgot to mention that we read nothing but Southam News products.
Media and communications expert Marshall McLuhan famously forecast in the 1960s that the medium of communication had become the substantive message. In a collateral fashion, corporate brands, logos, and other marketing devices are now so pervasive in modern culture that they have become as important and as valuable as the product to which they are affixed.
The commercial and marketing issue that is not yet resolved is whether a successful branding of a product by a corporation results in a permanent capture of a share of the market, or whether such branding represents a transient success. The branding process requires a significant investment in both time and resources on the part of a corporation; Nike's utilization of Michael Jordan made a successful company even more so, but it is doubtful a small company could afford the start up costs of such a significant branding effort.
Branding (or re-branding in the case of corporations seeking to change consumer attitudes concerning their products) is not a guarantee of profitability. The merger of Chrysler with the German automobile manufacturer Daimler is a vivid example. Since the 1998 merger of these two large companies, and in the face of a determined advertising campaign to advance the new Daimler Chrysler brand, the company has continued to lose both money and market share world wide.
The primary source article makes reference to the salvation of the University of Ottawa football program in 1999 through the intervention of Nike, who became the primary sponsor of the team and thus provided the financial support required to keep the team viable. This type of corporate involvement in a university sports program was noteworthy because it was rare for such corporations to participate in this fashion in Canadian university sports; it was a practice that had been commonplace in the American college and university athletic systems for many years prior to 1999. All major American college football and basketball programs were and continue to be the subject of generous corporate sponsorships. Athletic equipment manufacturers were not involved in Canadian university sports because there was little prospect of a meaningful return upon this advertising and branding investment, as Canadian university sport lacks the commercial appeal of its American counterpart. Companies generally only advance their brand in those environments where they are certain to obtain a positive financial return. This inherent aspect of corporate behavior would eliminate the whimsical suggestion of a family corporate sponsorship as advanced in the primary source article.
Like other aspects of marketing, branding is a subset of applied psychology, where positive identification with the brand by the consumer is the ultimate objective of the marketer. In recent years, branding has grown to include activities with no direct relation-ship to the target product. Examples of this trend include the purchasing of naming rights to sports stadiums by corporations; Fed Ex Field in Washington, D.C. and AT & T Park in San Francisco are two of many examples.
The attraction of the brands for the typical consumer, a variation of the classic debate of style versus substance, has sometimes manifested itself in bizarre ways. A noteworthy example occurred in July 2005, in what was humorously referred to in contemporary newspaper headlines as the unacceptable face of capitalism, a Utah woman agreed to have the name of an on line casino tattooed on her forehead in return for a payment of $15,000. The casino explained its strategy as an attempt to put its brand and its name forward in a novel way that was guaranteed to generate a public reaction.
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Gregory, James R. and Jack R. Weichmann. Branding Across Borders: A Guide to Global Branding Marketing. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2001.
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