How Nike Won a Cultural Marathon

August 19, 2023
David Sunnyside

The swoosh is hard to imagine running without, from marathon shoes to Olympic gear. But the company that ushered running into the mainstream began as an improbable footnote to college homework. In 1962, Nike founder Phil Knight handed in a paper that detailed how to import Japanese shoes into the US.

Knight and his track coach Bill Bowerman turned their research into an innovative shoe design and a mastery of low-cost production. Their company, Blue Ribbon Sports, became a runaway success, and jogging emerged as a popular pastime.

But that was just the beginning of a cultural revolution. In the years since, Nike has created a massive sportswear empire that has expanded into apparel and a range of gear that makes it a leader in all sports — from basketball to soccer.

To keep growing, the brand shifted its approach to marketing to put the consumer at the center of the message and strategy. They started collaborating with influencers like rappers, musicians and fashion designers, like Virgil Abloh, to elevate the perception of Nike as a cool and hip lifestyle brand.

They also took a global approach to marketing and inclusivity, from using plus-sized models in ads to creating products for underserved audiences, such as Muslim female athletes with the debut of the Pro Hijab. And, despite a class action lawsuit filed by two employees alleging sex discrimination, the company continues to portray itself as an advocate for women in professional sports leagues and in its advertising campaigns.

David Sunnyside
Co-founder of Urban Splatter • Digital Marketer • Engineer • Meditator
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