LEAVING A THUMBPRINT ON THE WORLD
Nike’s strategy has relied heavily on what David A. Aaker, in Building Strong Brands, calls “strategic opportunism,” introducing hundreds of shoes each year for some 30 sports.4 Cemented by a strong heroic identity, the ﬁrm can target speciﬁc shoes not only to different sports, but to different market segments, without defusing its identity. On the other hand, over time, Nike became so well recognized that it began to run ads with only the swoosh (and Jordan or a shoe)—no Nike, no message. Was this a sign of conﬁdence or of arrogance? The classic Hero of ancient tragedies had larger-than-life qualities, but also had a tragic ﬂaw—often, but not always, hubris, or pride—that caused his or her downfall. Oedipus and Antigone are examples from Greek drama; King Lear, Othello, and Hamlet from Shakespeare’s plays; and Nixon and O. J. Simpson in our own times. At the turn of the new century, Nike’s ultimate fate was still uncertain, but the company has deﬁnitely been living through both the triumphs and the liabilities of the Hero archetype. The public scandal over Nike’s use of child labor in China has escalated as Nike has reneged on gifts promised to universities that are supporting the student-led group working to impose standards for the protection of the international labor force. Nike’s lack of political ﬁnesse in dealing with this scandal might have been predicted from the company’s mission: “to experience the emotion of competition, winning, and crushing competitors.” However much or little the resulting backlash hurts Nike’s sales, the ﬁrm’s reputation has been tarnished. Traditionally, Nike has run wonderfully idealistic and noble ads encouraging athletes to protect the environment, boosting character in athletes, and recognizing the ways that athletics prepares women to control their own lives and participate more fully in a highly competitive economy. During the scandal, however, Nike ran an unusual ad. It showed a man running through a world that seemed to be coming to pieces. Cities were burning, missiles were falling, and he just kept running. He stoically ignored everything with the single exception of one other runner. This ad reveals an ambiguous strength of the archetype. On the one hand, the Hero’s ability to persevere in dangerous circumstances is a wonderful thing. On the other hand, 4. David A. Aaker, Building Strong Brands (New York: The Free Press, 1996), p. 256.