Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Brand Envy Run Amok

Just Undo It!
Nike's humble beginnings began in Oregon as Blue Ribbon Sports, basically operating as a distributor for a Japanese shoemaker. In 1971 it was preparing for it's own line to be launched, these would be the shoes that would bear the swoosh for the first time. The logo/trademark was later registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in January 1974.

In 1978, the company officially became Nike, Inc.

It was not until 1988 that their agency Wieden+Kennedy launched the slogan "Just Do It."  Oddly, Dan Wieden says his inspiration for the slogan came from Gary Gilmore, who reportedly said this as his last words before his execution by firing squad in 1977. Clearly Dan Wieden was cognizant of one fact: you can’t get sued by a dead man.

By 1980, Nike was dominant, with 50% of the athletic shoe market. Their growth in the 80s was meteoric, as they expanded into all sports and also began acquiring other apparel and footwear interests including, Cole Haan, Bauer Hockey, Hurley and Converse. Its brand and its swoosh became synonymous with cool success; synonymous with Tiger, with Jordan, with all athletic excellence, and more importantly, synonymous with global brand success and financial success.

Nike was the company with the golden touch. And everyone wanted in on the action. Everyone wanted the success that they had. Everyone wanted that cool factor.

So, what was the easiest way to associate one’s company with the new, the hip, the cool? Imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, almost every company, large and small began using a swoosh variation in their brand, or simply adding it to an already existing identity.

Some of the adopters were already successful companies

...some were regional small fry, with nothing to lose.




In the end, these other, often half-assed iterations of the swoosh polluted the branding world like a virus. And the ubiquitous presence of this second-hand crap was not pretty. I even had clients of my own pushing me to incorporate likenesses of it into branding components I was working on. Everyone wanted it.

The inevitable cruel irony: 
In 1971 a graphic design student at Portland State University named Carolyn Davidson, was asked to do some work for the original Blue Ribbon Sports. She designed the swoosh. Phil Knight, one of the founding partners, didn’t even really like it. He was forced to make a choice to meet a production deadline, reportedly stating: “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.” If only he realized how prophetic that statement was.
Carolyn Davidson was paid $35.

In 1983, following their IPO, Knight made good, giving Davidson a diamond ring engraved with the swoosh and an envelope containing an undisclosed amount of Nike shares.


This shape, this concept, lived long before 1971. Most publicly, in the brand world, as an icon for Newport cigarettes starting in 1957.