Rise Of Nike: Mystery Behind The Marketing Mega-Mind

Last Updated on 28th February, 2023  • Rit Patel   • 7 Minute Read


Nike Inc. is one of the major leading brands in sports apparel. Nike targets its user via the marketing technique it has been using for years to read the mind of the buyers. Here, in this article, you will get to know what made Nike one of the major leading brands and how Nike is far better than its competitors and holding first place for years. Let's start with knowing what Nike is:

Simple Is The New Complex

The statistics say it all. The story says it all. There is a thin line between unbranded and branded items. It makes a lot of difference in the way people perceive a product. Be it anything for that matter. The world is witnessing a constant evolution and so is the marketing of brands. 

This is where the most prominent brand in the market comes into the picture. Nike Inc. founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports by Bill Bowerman. The major factors in the growth of such a huge brand were very minute in scale but made a very big difference.

Let’s take a deeper look into how this brand was built and what made it grow so fast in such a relatively short span. Taking inspiration from the brand and how it has simplified its strategic approach to marketing we can also conclude that simple is always better. Or to say in other words, simple is the new complex. So let's implement this here also. 

The Humble Beginnings 

The 183 billion dollar shoe making giant has had humble beginnings like any other organisation. The history of Nike starts in 1964 with the events surrounding Blue Ribbon Sports. 

He ran for the University of Oregon's track and field team, which placed him in touch with Bill Bowerman, the team's coach. Bowerman showed a fascination with perfecting the fit of his running shoes, regularly experimenting with various models after learning how to do so from a local cobbler. It was peculiar to see such a fascination turn in curiosity. 

Knight was the first student to try wearing bowermans shoes. So this is where the story begins. To test his shoes Bowerman offered Knight to take his shoes and custom design it in return. It was a good deal, so Knight accepted it. The shoes worked so well that his teammate Otis Davis wore it during the 400-meter dash in the 1960 olympics and won Gold in it. Otis Davis till the day has always insisted that Bowerman make the shoes for him. 

Knight walked into Stanford's MBA program, during which he wrote a paper including a suggestion and opinion that, according to theory, the production of running shoes should move from Germany to Japan where labor is cheaper. 

Knight had been adamant over the same opinion throughout, and he got the perfect opportunity when he flew to Japan on a trip. He definitely did not miss the chance. After his 1962 graduation from Stanford, he put his skills into practical life. Kihachiro Onitsuka was persuaded by Knight and his proposal. The right to distribution of shoes in the U.S was given to Knight. The dealer was set. The export could be done now!! 

On January 25th, 1964, Coach Bowerman and Knight entered into a business agreement for a 50/50 ownership split of their new company because Bowerman had long backed Knight's endeavor.

The Rising Phenomenon 

It all started with the trunk of the car by selling the shoes to the high school crowd and the others during the high school track meets. They quickly rose to fame through word-of-mouth. The reason was simple, they offered something that not a lot of businesses offered at the time. It was the cheaper and high-quality alternative to competitors like Adidas and Puma. 

The innovation never stopped after that. Bowerman’s innovation went beyond boundaries and he proposed a new shoe design to Tiger shoe. It had the intention to provide runners with a soft cushion type sole for right support for the forefoot and hard sponge on the top of the heel and a firm rubber outside. It was what would be the best for runners. 

This was the most revolutionizing success for Blue Ribbon (Nike). This was also a reason why conflict had been rising between Blue Ribbon and the Japanese supplier. Blue Ribbon claimed that the foreign supplier intended to slip out of the exclusivity deal which they had both agreed to at the start of the journey. Blue Ribbon claimed that the Japanese supplier had sought to sink Blue Ribbon. On the contrary, the suppliers alleged that Blue Ribbon had been trying to sell their own version of the Tiger Cortez under a new product description and product line that they called "Nike." 

The Ending/Start Of The Track

The case settled in 1971 where both believed to have achieved a final judgment. The conclusion provided allowed both the companies to sell their own versions of the model. This led to both selling the best version of their selling models. It became known as Nike Cortez and Tiger Corsair (now sold by Tiger's modern incarnation, Asics). 

The initial plan for Nike after this was to rebrand itself as “Dimension 6”. But this, thankfully, did not happen. Jeff Johnson, who had a very important hand in setting up the network for Blue Ribbon, was also responsible for naming the brand “Nike”. According to sources, he named it due to his dream about Nike - the greek goddess of victory. This is when the carrier of victory was born indeed. But what next? 

A Brand Needs A Face!!

Carolyn Davidson designed the swoosh logo for which she was paid 5$ per hour. It was not particularly liked by Phil but he stated that it might just grow on him. And it did. The brand grew at a pace that was unexpected. It was indeed a tipping point for the goddess of victory. Phil reportedly threw a party to Davidson in 1983. Davidson received 500 shares in the company which are reported worth $1 million dollars today. 

The brand kept growing with the help of the famous Tiger Cortez design. And then Bowerman’s “Waffle” sole design. The coach got the inspiration for his creativity from his wife apparently!! How? He looked at the waffles that his wife made for him and imagined the grooves in it by seeing the inverted version of the waffles. To pass on the idea, he put urethane into the waffle iron!! Little did he know that the iron will be destroyed by the urethane!! 

But the idea has taken birth, he tested it on another waffle iron and it worked this time with the help of a little spray which saved the iron this time. This is how the “Waffle” design had taken over the market!

This was reportedly the most initial major success of Nike and many more to come. Phil became a millionaire overnight after the company released its first IPO in 1980. He owned shares worth $178 million overnight!! 

Birds Of A Swoosh Flock Together

The greatest assets have been its celebrity endorsements. But by signing athletes like Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and Lebron James in the early stages of their career they had expanded their brand image beyond just a show brand. It had become a symbol of greatness as time went by. 

Romanian tennis player Ilie Nastase became the first athlete to sign an endorsement with Nike in 1972. Nike signed Michael Jordan, launching the Air Jordan series in 1984. This being the most impactful deal in the history of Nike. It was the trademark step that led Nike - the goddess to spread its wings even more. 

The “Bo Known” campaign released by Nike in 1989 has made a mark in the company’s history. 

Wrapping Up

There are a ton of events that have occurred in the past decades which have shaped Nike as the defending champion in the history of the shoe manufacturing industry. 

From 2016 to 2019, Nike has had a tremendous impact on the sales of its products. In 2016, the company was at a sales of $20 Billion. In the fiscal year ended May 31st 2017 the company progressed to a sales of $22 Billion. In the fiscal year 2018, they reached the mark of $23 Billion. Whereas, in the fiscal year 2019, they reached $24.2 Billion. 

Analyzing this trend, it would be an objective judgment to say that Nike had a comparatively higher sales than any other competitor of its. Some of the main competitors would include Nike, Adidas, Puma and Asics. 

The creative agency Wieden+Kennedy tagline of Nike - “Let’s Do It!!” made an impact. The controversy around it was that the Dan Wieden, the founder of Wieden+Kennedy had taken the idea of the Nike tagline from the inspiration from a convicted murderer’s last words to the firing squad before his execution: “Let’s do it!”  

The tagline, product design, quality, and branding of the product made the entire difference to how people viewed Nike. 

The company is reputed for the shoes and the clothing also sometimes. The Sneakerhead culture began in the 1970s but the culture came into light with Michael Jordan signing a contract which resulted in global development. 

Last year, Nike became the most valuable brand in the world.  The 1985 Nike Air Jordan S1, which were autographed by Michael Jordan and worn by him in the game was sold worth $560,000 at a Sotheby’s auction making them the most expensive sneakers ever sold.

If one is a nike fan then they have definitely reached the end of this article and they have the immense desire to buy some new shoes!! So why not buy it at a reasonable rate and avail discounts by referring to deals and coupons available at KaroBargain. 

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Rit Patel

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