How Nike turned a fashion faux-pas into a badge of honour
A friend of mine who used to ride BMX introduced me to the expression ‘Factory Jackson’. Named after a popular skate brand back in the day, riders and skaters use it as a sneering term for people dressed head to toe in a single brand. Especially in more alternative subcultures like theirs, buying so wholeheartedly into any one company feels shallow, over-eager and against their indie aesthetics – essentially, all the gear and no idea.
So I had to smile last month, lining up in Victoria Park for the London leg of Nike’s first female-only 10k run, dressed head to toe in (yep, you guessed it) Nike. The only non-Nike item on my person was my pants… and that’s just because Nike don’t sell pants.*
I wasn’t the only one. Among the 3000+ runners decked out in the neon orange race-day T-shirt, designed for the event by House of Holland, I definitely spotted some multi-ticking going on. From trainers and leggings to backpacks and phone sleeves, there were swooshes aplenty.
This is not an insignificant feat. The sportswear-as-daywear trend flourished over the past twenty years, and the iconic Nike tick logo became so ubiquitous at one point that Maxim magazine allegedly felt compelled to issue the following style rule: unless you have signed a lucrative endorsement contract, do not appear in public wearing more than one swoosh.
6 weeks earlier when I signed up for the 10k, I could have followed this rule. I had a single Nike item – a running top. Over the course of training, I gradually picked up an armband here and a pair of trainers there… until there I was on race day: all the gear. Hopefully some idea. And not in the least bit bothered that I was definitely falling into the Factory Jackson category.
So how did Nike get me and several thousand other women to happily break the fashion rules?
Of course, they do a lot right. Savvy partnerships like a collaboration with Elle UK helped boost their fashion credentials, and ultimately they harnessed the power of the branded experience. These factors undoubtedly smoothed my way to the till. But in 3 key ways, Nike got me there feeling genuinely warm-hearted towards their brand, creating an emotional connection which turned me from customer into convert.
A single minded purpose
For a novice runner who previously would have needed shoehorning off the sofa, Nike is an easy mental shorthand for quality sportswear. And with Nike Running as a distinct entity, I felt even better catered for. Lazy shopping? Maybe. I did try going to Lillywhites, the historical multi-brand sports retailer in London’s Picadilly Circus, but found myself gazing in perplexity at all the different brands and options crowded together. Being split into focused floors and sections, the Niketown flagship store in Oxford Circus offered a reassuringly trendy one-stop shop – and especially for a newbie like me, faced with lots of choice, it’s crucial for a brand to cut through the noise.
Gearing up for the 10k, I downloaded the Nike+ and Nike Training Club apps. Both of these are slick, well-designed apps, full of great content, which synced with my personal training plan on the Nike website. Both were free.
Discussing cultural leadership, brand listener Peter Spear says ‘brand is not a separate activity one wraps around [a] business and aim[s] at the mass culture, but rather the outcome of the way that you help your customers in your category’. When brands help people achieve something over and above the basic product need, they make a positive impact on their life. Even if both brand and prospective consumer acknowledge that the long-term aim is to shift more units, the goodwill generated by providing genuinely useful, innovative tools or services can create a connection that lasts beyond a single transaction. Playing the long game often pays off (sometimes disproportionately, as my bank balance can attest).
Overcome cynicism by over delivering
Let’s be clear here. Every time I logged a run on the Nike+ app and saw the Shop option tucked at the bottom of the menu, or opened my emails to find another ‘countdown to race day’ message containing product suggestions, I was well aware that I was part of a highly targeted 6 week marketing campaign.
But by the time I picked up my free race-pack and found the tiny charm bracelet included in the Henry Holland tote bag, I was so… well, charmed, that I didn’t even care. Brands often talk about trying to surprise and delight their customers, but seldom manage it. In this case, they had. I honestly felt I owed Nike my custom in return. So when I decided I needed a new pair of leggings for the race, I went straight to Niketown without a second thought. And barely glanced at the price tag.
As I continue running, my brand repertoire will undoubtedly increase – maybe I’ll look back on my race day snaps as embarrassingly ‘Factory Jackson’. But for the moment, Nike helped me hit a personal achievement milestone and feel part of something bigger so for that, I’m happy to commit this minor style sin. And I don’t take such things lightly. So Nike? That’s a big tick.
* Surely a gap in the product range. By the end of my spending spree, I was so ready to splash out on some high-tech Dri-Fit running knickers!
by Rosa Halford, Insight Consultant