Nike and its swoosh corporate symbol are among the most recognized brand names in world, alongside McDonalds, Coca-Cola, and Disney. Starting in 1964 as a sport shoe outlet, the company grew to become the market leader in footwear and apparel. Nike has since diversified into a range of activities, including sports event promotion.
Owned by Phil Knight, Nike has become synonymous with world-class sport, especially through its sponsorship of events and elite athletes such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. Nike is so ever-present in the sports consumers’ minds, that a survey conducted during the Atlanta Summer Olympic Games in 1996 revealed an extremely high awareness of Nike, despite that fact that Nike was not an official sponsor of the Games.
Nike’s success has, to a great extent, been due to the fact that the company and its swoosh symbol have become ubiquitous in consumers’ minds. Nike has even run television commercials without even mentioning its own name, being confident enough that the checkmark swoosh is more than enough to make the company known.
Phil Knight has been the main inspiration behind Nike and its corporate direction. A competent, although not elite, middle distance runner at the University of Oregon, Knight went onto Harvard business school where the Nike idea emerged out of a paper he developed for a class on entrepreneurship. Knight’s former coach, Bill Bowerman, developed lightweight running shoes that became the new company’s trademark in the early days. From these modest beginnings, Nike eventually grew to become the sports giant it is today.
Ironically, part of Nike’s status in the world of competitive sports merchandising has come from the attention it’s received by critics. A short article published in the early-1990s in Harper’s Magazine quickly mushroomed into an international outcry against ike’s practice of placing their factories in underdeveloped countries and paying workers below-subsistence wages. Nike quickly responded to the criticisms with a number of tactics to either divert attention away from the criticisms (ones that Knight, interestingly, at first denied), or by acknowledging the practices but claiming Nike was “cleaning up its act.”
In many cases, Nike has made an effort to create better working conditions for those in underdeveloped countries making shoes and other merchandise. However, the overall effect of Nike’s changes is not known, and several groups around the world regularly check, and often criticize, Nike’s labour practices.
Nike’s recent marketing extravaganzas include a $200 million (U.S.) deal with the Brazilian National Soccer Federation. It has been rumoured that Knight’s ego has much to do with Nike’s marketing strategies. Some critics have suggested that Knight’s hidden agenda is no less than controlling sports marketing and merchandising throughout the world. Nike’s corporate headquarters in Oregon reflect these aspirations. Nike’s buildings and surrounding grounds are constructed very much like a religious cathedral, only with elite athletes, and Knight himself, as the gods.