Nike, and the responsibility of Market Leadership
By Denise Kohnke, Chief Strategy Officer, Merit
Most people are unaware that there are Emmys for advertising.
Yes, advertising is alive. Not dead yet. It has just grown up to be the adult in the room of marketing.
The 2021 Emmy for best commercial is executed with artful precision. It lives in context of all the tectonic cultural shifts that the pandemic exposed, yet, is timeless. It incites emotion. It has a point. And it sells something other than shoes.
The expression is entitled You Can’t Stop Us and can be seen here:
Which brings us to Market Invention, and the responsibility of market leadership. Nike is an American multinational corporation and the world’s largest supplier and manufacturer of just about anything sports-related. There are many statistics available on whatever you want to know: market share, their stealth transition to a direct-to-consumer company, their ad budget. Now, it’s all measured in billions.
But these stats are, frankly, more significant: New Balance was founded in 1906. Adidas, founded in 1949. Reebok, founded in 1958. Blue Ribbon Sports, founded in 1964 and rebranded as Nike in 1971.
BOOM. Back of the pack to world leader.
Nike, as a business, has a lot of historical dings at varying degrees of acknowledgment and response. Shuffling factories (and decimating local economies) to chase the cheapest workers, sweatshop conditions and unethical labor practices, hazardous chemicals in its supply chain.
But still, we forgive, forget and chalk issues up to pre-enlightenment business policies. Because Nike is us, or enough of us, who aspire to higher-order greatness. Nike invented the lifestyle brand and has maintained leadership of its sector regardless of challengers and their respective tries to overtake the giant at its own game. No cancel culture here, because marketing owns the Nike narrative.
Shareholders of lesser brands may be happy with their adorable marketing strategies, competing on the functional benefits of their shoes, and other practical reasons to believe.
Comparison is not in leadership DNA. Nike redefined the responsibility of corporate leadership by also being the adult in the room of culture, which is at least a reflection of a megatrend, but at most an incendiary that ignites movements. Iconic movements that change the world, and are on the right side of history. This Emmy award-winning ad and many other Nike ads you likely remember (because they are gorgeous and visceral) inspire people of all ages and cultures, of all physical deterrents, colors and orientations, to celebrate humanity.
Because Nike — or shoes — has never been the product. The product is shared values.
Brand leaders are merchant poets. They deliver purpose, influence and the ability to join and belong to an idea that is hard to articulate. They allow consumers to feel connected as believers, followers and loyalists.
That is the eventual responsibility that comes with Market Invention, regardless of an organization’s size, sector or marketing budget.