Recently I argued that what Starbucks and trendy frozen yogurt places sell are buzz and ambience, not necessarily food and beverages.
Today, an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (paywall) that talks about another star Nike spokesperson – Oscar Pistorius, who is under arrest for probably killing his girlfriend – makes a related point.
This time, the argument is that Nike is actually selling a dream and an aspiration – not necessarily shoes and athletic gear.
The thing about Nike that rarely gets acknowledged is that it doesn’t sell shoes, or even athletes, as much as it buys and sells stories, narratives, fairy tales. They aren’t a shoe company as much as a giant abstraction—a condition of the aspirational mind…
Nike doesn’t make racing bikes. It signed Armstrong because he had survived cancer and come back to win the most grueling race in the world. It didn’t sell golf clubs when it signed Tiger Woods. Nike brought him aboard because he was a potentially transformative star who had the ability to break down racial barriers in the world’s most staid sport.
The problem with that philosophy is that when the brand is built in consumers’ minds using various celebrity spokespersons, the brand takes a hit when the celebrities are revealed to have feet of clay.
Today, its Oscar Pistorius. A few months ago, it was Lance Armstrong (which prompted my “Geckos never dope” article). And prior to that, it was Tiger Woods and Michael Vick.
Interestingly, the article says, these potential PR nightmares haven’t really dented revenue growth for Nike.
I wonder if that’s because Nike backs such a pantheon of celebrities that it can afford to have 2 or 3 “fall” every year? Perhaps that’s the very reason why it backs such a wide variety of athletes across the world, to mitigate risk, in the first place?
And on the other side, perhaps consumers willingly buy into Nike’s “hero myths” and legends because they want to believe, as much as Nike wants to sell…knowing though that all athletes are fundamentally and ultimately human – which then allows Nike’s brand to remain intact in their minds, while they search for another athlete or celebrity to idolize?