is the winged Greek goddess of victory. The Nike company was built by athletes who loved the contest and believed in running. Its initial success coincided with the jogging craze, which promoted an ideal not only of health, but also of the runner as a heroic individual. In the 1990s, the company’s campaign relied strongly, but not exclusively, on the well-loved sports hero Michael Jordan, as well as on donating Nike shoes to top professional and college teams and convincing coaches to give them to the players. The message, of course, is that the best athletes wear Nikes. However, the focus on Jordan has been carefully balanced with ads with real people (and researching the tastes and preferences of “cool” kids). Nike also championed the importance of female participation in sports and invited women to identify with the heroic ideal. Some ads also featured Little League football and high school soccer teams. By connecting the swoosh with women, everyday cool kids, and Michael Jordan, Nike uses celebrity in a healthy way. Ordinary people are encouraged to “feel like Mike.” To help promote this image, Nike also featured Jordan in an ad in which he was rather unsuccessfully trying to play minor league baseball, thus making him seem more human and accessible than when he is showing such exceptional ability at basketball. Wearing Nikes, then, is aspirational: Consumers wear them not necessarily because they have the qualities of heroism, but because they want to have those qualities. Jonathan Bond and Richard Kirshenbaum, in Under the Radar, posit a similar connection when “Nike sponsors an urban playground competition and the black-and-white swoosh logo is afﬁxed to the chain-link fence. The playground is automatically turned into a professional sports arena—with only two nylon-fabric signs. That’s the power of branding!”2 Bond and Kirshenbaum go on to state that “People spend years working out ways to get a job at Nike,” and their employees are so loyal that many “tattoo the famous Nike swoosh on their inner thighs.” They do not just work at Nike; it’s a driving force in their lives.3
2. Jonathan Bond and Richard Kirshenbaum, Under the Radar: Talking to Today’s Cynical Consumer (New York: Adweek Books, 1998), p. 82. 3. Bond and Kirshenbaum, p. 189.