Why Nike Embraces Brand Utility


When Nike global director of digital media Stefan Olander looks at the Web, he doesn’t see an ad medium, though Nike runs its share of banner ads. Instead, he sees a chance to build Nike’s brand by providing valuable services.

Olander spoke to a packed house at the International Advertising Festival here, outlining three projects Nike is undertaking to build its brand by providing customers with tools and services that help bring the company’s longtime tagline, “Just do it,” to life.

“We’ve been viewing digital as less of a marketing channel than a place for services,” he said in an interview. “It’s really hard to convey a brand message” through Web ads.

Following the success of Nike+, the training system that lets runners easily track and share their running data, Nike has looked for other opportunities to do the same in other sports. For basketball players, for instance, it has launched “Ballers Network” on Facebook. The application gives basketball players the chance to find games, organize their leagues and connect with other players. While it is not a vast technical undertaking like Nike+, it has a similar goal: provide a useful service that enhances an athlete’s enjoyment of his sport.

“If we can do something good for someone, no matter the product, it’s going to be good for us,” he said, sharing the stage with Bob Greenberg, CEO of Nike digital agency R/GA. “The goodwill value to us is gigantic.”

Similarly, Nike has launched “Boot Camp,” a training tool for football players.

But Nike+ is the brand’s most famous and admired foray into so-called brand utility. It calls Nike+ the world’s largest running club, its members having logged 99 million miles. Now, it is trying to turn that virtual community into real-life action by staging what Nike is calling “The Human Race,” a 10-kilometer race held simultaneously in 25 cities. For those not in those cities, they can log their miles virtually through Nike+. The goal: get 1 million people to run at once on Aug. 31.

“We’ve been focused much more on creating services,” Olander said. “It’s taught us to rethink our role.”

One of the services highlighted was NikeID, the shoe customization service R/GA helped Nike build. The shop has added communal features to NikeID, allowing users to easily share their creations with others, both friends and strangers.