Nike brand strategy case study

Nike Brand Strategy Analysis

Apparel  sportswear

Owner of the brand:
Nike, Inc.

Key competitors:
Adidas, Reebok, Under Armour, Puma

Brand essence

Bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete* in the world.
(*If you have a body, you’re an athlete)

Brand values

Inspiration, innovation, perseverance. determination.

Brand character

Powerful, confident, encouraging, motivational, for everybody, high-tech.

Dominating archetype

Before Nike became one of the most admired brands in the world and the largest global sportswear corporation, it had been operating as a small, niche company called Blue Ribbon Sports. Blue Ribbon Sports was set up by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight in 1964 to sell Japanese sneakers made by Onitsuka Tiger (now known as ASICS) to professional athletes in the US. It was renamed Nike and started producing its own shoes only after the cooperation with Onitsuka Tiger ended in the early 1970s.


Nike outperformed Adidas for the first time to become the bestselling sportswear brand in the US in 1980[1]. It has managed to keep this status to this day, in every year except two. In 1987 and 1988, it lost its leadership position to Reebok, the brand which became extremely popular during the first wave of the fitness and aerobics craze in the late 1980s. Although this was a difficult period for Nike, the changes introduced then in its product and brand strategy laid the groundwork not only for the brand’s immediate recovery but also for its long-term growth. This was when Nike launched one of its biggest market hits, the Air Max line, and launched the first “Just Do It” campaign.


Nike defines its mission as “bringing inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” with the annotation that “if you have a body, you’re an athlete”[2]. Nike is a textbook example of the Hero brand. For years, it has been consistently telling the story of overcoming weakness to achieve greatness. The main villains in this story are procrastination, lack of willpower and laziness, while the definition of winning isn’t acquiring a trophy but being persistent enough not to give up (“Anyone can find excuses to stop. Find a reason to keep going”[3]).


Nike’s strategy of treating everyone as athletes and focusing on attitude rather than capabilities and performance, allowed the brand to get the message through to a wider, mainstream audience and extend its brand appeal from professional athletes to regular people. This democratic approach is believed to be one of the main reasons why the company recovered from the crisis in the late 1980s and has been a market leader ever since. It helped Nike to be perceived as the brand of choice both for practising sport and as casual wear, contributing to the growing athleisure trend.


Technology and innovation play a big part in Nike’s communication, allowing the brand to meet the needs of contemporary athletes both in traditional gear like shoes, (e.g., the Flyknit technology which reduces waste and the weight of footwear or the self-lacing HyperAdapt sneakers) and in new categories such as wearables, (e.g., Nike+ FuelBand, now sunset), connected products or apps, (e.g., the Nike+ app for runners).


Despite the powerful character of the brand, Nike’s tone of voice is often welcoming and humorous, even in ads endorsed by renowned athletes for example, the famous “Risk Everything” campaign[4], encouraging people to play “risky” football. Interestingly, unlike other sportswear brands such as Adidas or Puma, Nike, though often light-hearted, almost never cooperates with influencers and celebrities who are not sportspeople (the only exception being Kanye West, with whom Nike launched the Nike Air Yeezy line in the early 2000s, before he joined Adidas). In fact, Nike is more likely to portray regular people in its advertising than pop or fashion icons.

Most important campaigns

1. “Dream Crazier” (2019)

2. “Dream Crazy” (2018)

3. “Nothing Beats A Londoner” (UK, 2018)

4. “Want It All” (2017)


5. “Just Do It” (1998)

6. “Revolution” (1987)

Official brand statement:

Our mission: Bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world*
* If you have a body, you are an athlete.[5]

Interesting facts:

The iconic tagline “Just do it” was coined by Dan Wieden from Wieden + Kennedy agency in 1988. He was inspired by the last words of a criminal, Gary Gilmore.[6]

Phil Knight who founded Nike in 1964 is still the chairman emeritus of the company.


1. Nike’s new approach to women’s sneakers
“Four Ways Nike Is Thinking About Women’s Sneakers Differently”, Nike, Feb 2018,

2. Why Nike is not a wearable company anymore
D. Muoio, “Nike Exec Looks Back At Fuelband’s Rise And Fall, Talks Lessons Of Wearables 1.0”, Mobile Health News, Nov 2017,

3. Quartz on Phil Knight’s legacy and Nike’s history
M. Bain, S. Banjo, “How Phil Knight Turned The Nike Brand Into A Global Powerhouse”, Quartz, Jun 2015,

4. The story behind the first “Just Do It” campaign
J. Conlon, “The Brand Brief Behind Nike’s Just Do It Campaign”, Branding Strategy Insider, Aug 2015,


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