The Nike White Project: Where White Meets Grey
Sponsorship Snacks Week 26
For many years Nike has been sitting on the golden throne of the sports marketing industry. They are known for cutting-edge innovation, an authentic roster of high-performing athletes, and an iconic slogan that continues to embody the essence of the brand. Their advertisements are considered to be some of the world’s best. Good examples are the recent “Dream Crazy” and “Dream Crazier” campaigns.
Nike look set to remain a powerhouse in the sporting goods category for years to come. Yet, in the past, many powerful brands have failed to adapt to the ever-changing business environment. Many have been disrupted, replaced, or overtaken by competitors.
With their new shoe, Nike is blurring the lines of marketing. What looks like an ordinary shoe has an important twist: it is totally unbranded. Nike did not put their famous “Swoosh” logo or wordmark on it. The reason? They want to allow every Olympic athlete to wear their shoe.
On Instagram, Nike emphasizes that it wants to give every athlete a chance to perform at his best. They hand out an open invitation for every athlete to “paint em, tape’ em, do whatever you need to do to let them fly by whoever they need to fly by.”
That’s a statement for sure.
Nike is attacking a grey area in the endorsement contracts. Typically, athletes are not allowed to be seen with other brands besides the one they are in a contractual agreement with.
However, Nike has a history of finding loopholes in that rule. It could be a coincidence that the former world champion Mario Götze wore a Nike T-shirt in his official presentation at Bayern Munich, an Adidas sponsored club. It could also have been a thoroughly executed plan.
While it will remain a question of how many athletes will put on the shoe during the Olympics and risk losing their sponsor money, Nike’s surprising play could create tension behind the scenes. Athletes are becoming increasingly self-determined, and they are looking for a brand that acts as a partner, not a ruler.
With this marketing trick, Nike addresses four important brand characteristics for a modern streetwear brand:
A look at the graph below shows how much Nike’s customers value those four brand attributes. The new shoes meet each criterion. No brand has ever dared to put out a shoe without a logo, and it has always been Nike’s mission to empower athletes to bring out their best and ‘Just Do It’.
Nike knew the associated risk but decided that it is worth it. 53% of the people who bought Nike products in the last two years are also fans of the Olympic Games.
The chart above shows where the people are from that purchased Nike products in the last two years. Considering that this year’s Olympic Games are also in the Asian-Pacific regions, Nike’s marketing stunt reaches their biggest consumer base of the last years.
As brands seek to extract the maximum value from their investments across the marketing mix, stakeholders in the world of sponsorship need to be aware of the grey areas that might exist in their contractual agreements.
For Rights Holders, it is becoming increasingly important to review contractual language and put safeguards in place to protect both them and their sponsor brands. For brands, the grey areas present both risk and opportunity and the risk appetite of your business might dictate how you approach negotiations.
In the case of Nike, they took the opportunity to turn grey into white. A brave statement and one that undoubtedly will continue to gain significant coverage in the weeks leading up to the Games.
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