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Nike Inc. is engaged in the business of design, development, marketing and selling of footwear, apparel, equipment, accessories and services.  The company is one of the world’s largest suppliers of athletic shoes and apparel, with revenue in excess of $24.1 billion in its fiscal year 2012 alone (Schwartz).  According to Forbes, the brand alone is valued at $10.7 billion, making it the most valuable brand among sports businesses (Schwartz).  It’s trademarks, ‘Just Do It’ and Swoosh logo, are among the most recognizable in the world.  Nike has struck gold yet again with its 2012 “Find Your Greatness”.

Traditionally Nike associates the brand alongside superstar athletes, they have sponsored some of the greatest in sports and typically play a large role in designing uniforms for the Olympic Games, World Cup, and other various high profile sporting events.  The brand gained much of its success and market share by aligning with legendary athletes such as Michael Jordan and John McEnroe.  In 1988 the “Just Do It” slogan was coined by ad legend Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy (Art & Copy).  The campaign inspired countless individuals and allowed Nike to further increase its share of the domestic sports shoe business from 18% to 43%in just ten years (Mini-case Study: Nike’s “Just Do It” Advertising Campaign).  The “Just Do It” campaign reasserted the positive associations consumers already had with the brand, adding a distinct and large layer of value to the brand.  Nike has quite clearly elevated the brand through added meaning and value.  As an athlete myself, I realize that Nike is everywhere and everything.  It’s easily the most recognizable and desired brand all because they have captured this idea of a cool, legendary, hard working athlete in the Swoosh logo.  “The commodity sign is formed at the intersection between a brand name and a meaning system summarized in an image (Goldman, Papson 82).“ In my mind logos are the most powerful and meaningful commodity signs we have in our consumer society.  You can discern so much about a person solely by the brand they choose to wear.  And Nike continues to add value and meaning to their logo with each successful campaign.  With this campaign Nike has shifted the focus; no big expensive broadcast TV spots, no legendary face, but rather an influx of creativity on social media and a whole lot of consumer interaction and engagement.

Although in 2012, especially with this specific campaign, Nike tried to focus on the everyday consumer/athlete to uphold their brand image they still found a way to capitalize on the spectacular athletes at the London 2012 Olympics.  When the US Women’s National Soccer Team won Gold in London Nike was readily prepared to ride the cultural coat tails of the event.  Nike, the official sponsor of the team, provided them with on the platform with shirts stating “Greatness Has Been Found” to accompany their gold medals.

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In essence with these shirts Nike brilliantly managed to tie everyday consumers and these superstar athletes together in a single campaign creating a powerful and complex imagined community.  The focus in this instance is on the Olympians, and yet there is a distinct relationship that consumers can build with the team, and of course with Nike.  The conversation Nike created goes something like this…Hey they are amazing, work hard towards self-improvement, and use Nike products…I’m amazing, I work hard and I should use Nike products too.  This everyday consumer could be someone who exercises everyday, they could run marathons, they could be as fit as an Olympian… or they could be someone like those featured in the Find Your Greatness campaign who are ignored, unexpected, and/or unusual.   Find Your Greatness allows for this deep conversation to establish itself among athletes of any stature or achievement thus has a strong added value and meaning for consumers.  The complex conversation the campaign generates makes perfect sense; of course legendary athletes are credible sources for achievement, but it is a lot more believable that to me, as an everyday consumer, to see people just like me achieving greatness.  Yes, I know that Michael Jordan has missed, and sure he’s lost some games, but expecting me to believe I can find success like he has is not exactly plausible.

It’s important to note that advertisements are always commodity narratives.  Everything we have tells has a story attached.  “Consumer ads typically tell stories of success, desire, happiness, and social fulfillment in the lives of people who consumer the right brands (Goldman, Papson 82).”  It’s clear with Find Your Greatness that Nike gives countless examples of consumers doing just that.  They are fulfilled, they are happy, and they are great; Nike recognizes them as so, regardless of what the rest of the world thinks.

The TV Spot focuses on showing ‘greatness’ in various cities across the globe named London.  This explicitly speaks to the idea that these people are just as great if not greater than the Olympic athletes in the UK that summer.  This TV spot was the first and only TV spot for the campaign, it was later followed up by a series of short 15 second YouTube videos featured on Nike’s Channel.  The narrative quite blatantly asks us to shift our perspective and focus alongside Nike, audiences are asked to celebrate every level of athleticism and join them on the quest for greatness, whatever greatness that might be.  This shift of focus is vital to Nike’s well-being and brand image.  “The appetite of advertising…for new meanings and styles is voracious.  The production and reproduction of competitive sign values require the continuous search for cultural matter that might have fresh value (Goldman, Papson 87).”  The narrative is powerful and calls attention to a cultural ideology about athleticism and ‘greatness.’  The commercial professes…

“Greatness is just something we made up, somehow we’ve come to believe that greatness is a gift reserved for a chosen few…and the rest of us can only stand by and watching.  You can forget that.  Greatness is not some rare DNA strand, not some precious thing…we are all capable of it.  All of us.”

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And with this the TV spot has added a priceless amount of value to the brand’s image.  The brand has again found something fresh, true, and inspiring to speak to their consumers.  In shifting the focus in such a large way Nike is, at least for the time being, satisfying this voracious appetite for new meanings.

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On August 12th 2012 Nike took interpellation to a whole new level.  They created and promoted an event on Twitter inviting people all around the world to participate.  On this day the new Nike Fuelband was being released, they asked people to log as many fuel points as possible and tweet about it with the hashtag #findgreatness.   Find your greatness is a brand new idea that excited consumers and calls them to action on a much higher level than possible with traditional broadcast media.  They are not only asking consumers to ‘witness’ athletic superstars, but to be them.  Social media, Twitter specifically, has interpellated the consumer on an individual level.  It allows them to listen to the conversation as well as construct it, they are now not only taking in the commodity sign they are creating it.

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Nike also featured some of the participants in ads featured on Twitter.  With these ads Nike quite literally puts these people on pedestals, raising the question, why should pedestals and trophies be reserved for those with an audience?  The campaign illustrates the idea that there is no need to be the best in the world to find greatness, rather you find it in being your personal best.  With the commercial, YouTube campaign, and Twitter event Nike proudly displays testimonial after testimonial of happy customers who are fulfilled in their athletic achievements, no matter how big or small.   “Current marketing trends have created a context in which the brand matters more than the product, and corporations sell an experience or lifestyle more than thing (Banet-Weiser, Lapsansky 1249).”  In focusing the advertisements’ narrative on everyday greatness Nike has painted a vivid image of the consumer who is fulfilled by being a Nike consumer.  It’s important to note that although they have shifted the image of the brand they have not strayed from the core and consistent image it has professed since its beginnings of “Just Do It.”  As cultural theorist Noami Klein points out, these companies produce images of brands much more so than things, the real work is not on manufacturing but on marketing (Banet-Weiser, Lapsansky 1249).  Personal narratives maintain the image of brand, more so than traditional advertising where function and utility was a higher priority than meaning and brand image.  It is simply how our consumer society works.  As we become more and more alienated from traditional society the focus on what we consume becomes more and more important.

Below are some of the most recent hashtags for #findyourgreatness.  As you can tell it is still relevant and inspiring people all over the world a year later.

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The community of Nike Fuelband and those chasing after this greatness is boundless.  As proudly displayed in the TV ad these are people of different races, genders, ages and cultures and yet they are all chasing the same ideal.  This idea is a relatively new cultural ideal in that through technological advances like the Internet we can transcend all of our differences and create a global community.  As describe by Littler a new cosmopolitanism is becoming the norm.  Internationality is becoming increasingly relevant in terms of social, political, economic, and cultural ties.  Social media and the Internet have played a large role in allowing this cultural ideology to emerge.  “Cosmopolitanism… opens up a different kind of imaginative space by gesturing towards ways of thinking about how we might be able to have a positive and dynamic relationship to other people in the world (Littler 24).”  Nike even created a website nike.com/gameonworld to foster this global community of Nike consumers and Fuelband users.  People who engage in the missions are encouraged to share their activity and achievements through social media and this will then be displayed on the Nike Fuelstream (Athena Information Solutions).  The Fuelstream will be an online stream of images and consumer content.  They will also be elevated through Nike’s own social channels which will encourage users with replies and motivation, ultimately the goal is to create a community that will encourage, motivate, and inspire people to find their greatness.  Inspire and motivate it did; the following images provided by High Snobiety illustrate just how engaged and active Nike consumers became in response to this online hub for a global community.

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It is clear through the images and statistics that Nike has brought consumer interaction and the imagined community to a level much higher than ever before.  These statistics illustrate the grand scale and reach the campaign has had through out the year, moreover they show how valuable Internet advertising can be in terms of engaging consumers, having broad reach, and tracking success and effectiveness.  Many of these aspects would never be possible without this medium.

Ads are considered cultural intermediaries because of the complex relationship they have with reflecting and creating cultural ideologies.  Social media and the Internet has allowed for Nike to become a cultural intermediary on steroids.  The advertising world is changing extremely quickly and consumer participation is becoming increasingly vital to brand image.  “Current brand management is marked by a tension between consumer participation and corporate control over messaging (Banet-Weiser, Lapsansky 1251).”  In order to stay ahead of the curve and Nike had to work this idea of consumer participation into their campaign.  With this campaign Nike has been able to heighten the sense of an imagined consumption community created by brands.  The community is seemingly infinite, judging from the statistical results, and can help you find exactly the push you were looking for.  This imagined community pushed further because it is not only associated with those you physically see wearing Nike, but hinges on the idea that you are never alone if you are wearing Nike finding your greatness.  Since the advent of the Internet and social media there has been a new emphasis placed on ‘pull’ and creativity, mainly because audiences are able engage with the message instead of simply enduring it (Leiss, et al., 345).  “Internet’s significance for advertising…[is] that it instilled a new way of thinking about accessing consumers and distributing information (Leiss, et al., 345).  Marketers developed new tools such as one to one marketing, database marketing, and pull instead of push marketing.  The importance is that because of the Internet the campaign; humanizes the brand more than any legendary athlete or major traditional campaign could, gives exact examples of the product fit into various lifestyles which traditional media never could, and asserts social norms and values stronger than traditional media ever could.

Through Nike’s Find Your Greatness campaign I truly believe the brand has transcended past the idea of using advertisements and corporate marketing to serve as cultural intermediaries, they have utilized social media in order to truly create a culture and community.  This brand has created a brand culture and imagined community long ago when it first came out with the iconic Swoosh and Just Do It campaign, but with this campaign and social media they have in fact created a community of consumers based on a drive for self-improvement.  The community is no longer imagined; it is a real global community of people who actively challenge themselves and believe in Nike’s message.

Social media has revolutionized the way advertising and marketing functions.  There is no doubt that the capabilities and limitations of Internet media have infinitely effected how brands communicate with consumers but also how consumers communicate with brands and each other.  Nike’s message grows stronger, gains credibility, and becomes even more relevant with each tweet, Instagram post, YouTube view, and Facebook status.  It is only logical that alongside the Internet’s affordance of greater consumer interactivity Nike has shifted its campaigns content to focus on consumers as the protagonists and representatives of the brand rather than big name athletes like they have in the past.  Most importantly I don’t see how this shift in focus and engagement could ever happen without the advent of the Internet and social media in advertising and marketing strategies.

Lastly, its important to realize that in the beginning social media’s primary use is to stay connected with out friends and family, yet inevitably, like every other aspect of our society corporations and brands have become integral players.  It speaks to the way in which our capitalist society functions and how we as consumers relate to each other based on our relationship with brands.  Our relationships with brands unavoidably affect our relationships with people.  Social media has allowed for these relationships to co-exist in a complex way, now we are able to engage with brands much like we do with other people.

– Imani Ribadeneyra

Works Cited

Avila, Esther. “Nike Encourages People to Seek Greatness.” McClatchy – Tribune Business NewsJul 27 2012. ProQuest. Web. 14 Apr. 2013 .

Banet-Weiser, Sarah, and Charlotte Lapsansky. “RED Is the New Black: Brand Culture, Consumer Citizenship, and Political Possibility.” International Journal of Communication(2008): 1248-268. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson “Advertising in The Age of Accelerated Meaning” (1996).” The Consumer Society Reader. Ed. Juliet Schor and Douglas B. Holt. New York, NY: New, 2000. 81. Print.

Leiss, William, and Jackie Botterill. “Media in the Mediated Marketplace.” Social Communication in Advertising: Consumption in the Mediated Marketplace. New York: Routledge, 2005. 343-50. Print.

Littler, Jo. “Cosmopolitan Caring; Globalization, Charity and the Activist-consumer.” Radical Consumption: Shopping for Change in Contemporary Culture. Maidenhead, Berkshire, England: Open UP//McGraw-Hill Education, 2009. 23-49. Print.

“Mini-case Study: Nike’s “Just Do It” Advertising Campaign”. CFAR. Retrieved 2013.

Nike Rolls Out Find Your Greatness Campaign. Mumbai, India, Mumbai: Athena Information Solutions Pvt. Ltd, 2012. ProQuest.Web. 14 Apr. 2013.

Schwartz, Peter (February 3, 2010). “The World’s Top Sports Brands”. Forbes. Retrieved 2013-06-05.

Williams, Pete. “Nike+ FuelBand 1 Year Anniversary: The Data.” HighSnobiety.Feb272013. Web. 13April2013. ,http://www.highsnobiety.com/2013/02/27/nike-fuel/>

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