An organization with a strong identity, in fact, with an extraordinarily strong identity, is the Nike Corporation, a manufacturer of athletic apparel headquartered in Beaverton, Oregon. Established in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, and renamed Nike in 1978, it emerged as the dominant manufacturer of footwear for athletes during the 1980s and has remained among the top manufacturers of athletic apparel ever since. Nike’s signature trademark “swoosh” is prominently displayed at virtually every major athletic event held around the world. Although competition from Adidas, Reebok, and other companies has put a dent in Nike’s share of the market over the past decade, it remains probably the most prominent of the increasingly crowded market.
A huge part of Nike’s success was its ability to conclude extremely lucrative marketing agreements with major, high-profile athletes like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods (although the latter’s marketability has obviously declined since revelations of his extramarital affairs surfaced). These contracts with major sports figures involved the production of very effective television advertisements that succeeded in cementing the relationship between athletic brilliance and Nike, with the aforementioned trademark prominently displayed throughout. The nation’s youth, saturated with images of Jordan, Woods, and other figures from the world of sports, clamored for Nike products and spent exorbitant amounts on Nike shoes, sweatshirts, shorts, hats, and more, making Nike an American success story with a famously relaxed corporate culture.
Unfortunately for Nike, and for its brand, news stories focusing on the working conditions of the factories in Asia where its products are actually manufactured cast the organization in a negative light, as did Tiger Wood’s collapse following the revelations of his affairs and the disintegration of his marriage. While Nike stood by its partner throughout his tribulations, the company’s image suffered from the association and, combined with the disappearance of Jordan as a major athletic force, it has had difficulties reestablishing its prior dominance within the market.
Despite these hits to its image and marketability, Nike remains a major force in the sports apparel industry, to the point where its high-profile co-founder and chairman of the board of Nike, Inc., Philip Knight, was inducted in the Professional Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012 – a noteworthy development given his company’s profile and role. Under Knight’s guidance, Nike transcended the apparel industry to become an influential player in the world of professional sports, a product of his ability to manipulate player attitudes and to fund and sponsor major sporting events.
The major way in which Nike, Inc., can strengthen its existing organizational profile is through more vigorous oversight of the conditions under which its products are manufactured, and by minimizing its association with athletes whose personal lives leave considerable room for improvement. Nike stood by Tiger Woods, but it is likely that Knight and his colleagues would have preferred not to see their “swoosh” cast in a negative light.