How storytelling is at the heart of the Nike brand
A new book on Nike demonstrates the core role that marketing and storytelling play at the sportswear brand, and how the Air Max shoe came to define its future approach.
Walk down any city street, and it will only be a matter of minutes – maybe even seconds – before you spot a Nike Swoosh. Over the course of its near 50-year life span the logomark has become a ubiquitous addition to our visual landscape, so easily identified that for half of that time it has stood alone, without supporting typography, to represent the Nike brand.
The mark had relatively humble origins: it was created in 1971 by Portland State University graphic design student Carolyn Davidson as a freelance project for Phil Knight (who taught accounting classes at the school until 1969). The Swoosh first appeared in the same year on a pair of football boots called The Nike, and in 1972 on the first line of Nike footwear produced by Blue Ribbon Sports, the company Knight and Bill Bowerman initially co-founded to distribute athletic shoes from Japan. However, it wasn’t until 1978, as Blue Ribbon Sports ventured further into creating its own designs, that the company changed its name to Nike, Inc. It’s impossible to imagine Davidson – even in her wildest dreams – had any notion that her work would one day be imbued with so much meaning for so many people around the world.
In the 2002 book The Brand Gap, author Marty Neumeier explains that the idea of a brand is little more than a collective amalgam of people’s gut feelings about a product, service, or company. “When enough individuals arrive at the same gut feeling,” he writes, “a company can be said to have a brand. In other words, a brand is not what you say it is. It’s what they say it is.” Companies that excel at marketing understand that everything they do – every product, every communication, every conceivable point of contact with a customer or potential customer, and even their corporate policies and practices – contributes to this perception. While this has long been the case at Nike, the success of its brand building has come through an ability to foster connection through emotive storytelling.