If you saw BBC2’s new series Branded last Saturday night, you might be questioning the morality of “the brand”. The hold the programme’s subject, Nike, has over the international youth market is frightening, given that the company purports to only really be concerned with the 30 per cent of its customers who are professional athletes.
On screen at least, Nike won’t acknowledge the fashion market it’s hounded mercilessly through aggressively sharp advertising and “brand experiences” like the Nike Town stores. Yet words like “war” and “victims” pepper BBC2’s commentary on a marketing strategy aimed at kids who rate personal success by the branding on their trainers – and buy them by the score. If Nike isn’t selling lifestyle and the concept of being the best with its “whoosh” marque, who is?
But Nike is also selling quality. The ad campaign, flaunting sports stars Michael Jordan, Carl Lewis, Eric Cantona et al, might only have boosted its standing momentarily were it not that it produces great products, albeit at a high retail price. Design innovation underpins the vision of Mr Nike, Phil Knight, not least in the revolutionary waffle sole, created by Knight’s co-founder Bill Bowerman. It’s about bringing design and ideas together at the outset and backing both to the hilt.
The same could be said of Levi Strauss, Sony and Alessi – all world-beating companies driven by the vision of one man (sadly, few women feature in the international charts). We see it in the UK in the likes of James Dyson,
Terence Conran, Richard Branson and Anita Roddick – rare beings who we tend to trot out as admired exceptions rather than realistic role models for business.
Listening to Knight , it’s clear Nike’s success is based on leadership, quality and conviction, principles you can apply to any company – even a modest design group, as Dyson can testify three years on from his launch. If you uphold these principles, the 40 per cent growth Nike achieved from 1995 to 1996 could be within your grasp.