Wings, Dreams and Nightmares

By Chad Dick, 22/01/2013

I should preface this post with the caveat that at eatbigfish, we are big fans of Nike as a very successful company who operates with a Challenger Brand Mindset. As Phil Knight once said, ‘We are the industry goliath, but we stay that way by thinking and acting like the industry David.’ We’ve even had the privilege of working with them on more than one occasion, so we can vouch for the fact that they indeed have a lot of Challenger DNA.

So you can imagine my intrigue when my 11 and 7 year old boys, both of whom have just started to get into the Nike Air [Jordan] shoe phenomenon (as most tweens and teens do when they start playing hoops), brought to my attention this recent video by the up and comer, Macklemore:

I wonder if Nike ever expected that a compelling challenge to their venerable Nike Air and Air Jordan brand would ever come from the world of Rap music? After all, it seems that for the past 20 years the Hip Hop and Rap communities have been the early adopters endorsing the ‘sneaker head’ culture. Yet, here we now have someone from that community questioning the very ‘Dreams’ that the Nike brand represents, clearly calling them out as false idols and portraying a harsh reality that gets lost in the ‘dreams.’

It certainly got my two boys thinking about whether it’s ‘worth it’ to pay more than $100 for a pair of sneakers, and you know you’ve got a message that resonates when a 7-year old understands that it’s crazy for someone to murder someone over a pair of coveted shoes.

I suspect there are a few more out there who are connecting with this song as my boys did — just look at the 11 Million views and the ~90,000 ‘likes’ compared to the ~1000 ‘dislikes’ on YouTube alone. If you don’t like the numbers, then a quick look through the comment thread will show you that this song has touched a nerve — so it not only represents a viable challenge to the Nike brand, but perhaps it’s their worst Nightmare.

It will be interesting to see if and how the folks from Beaverton respond to this new challenge. Will Macklemore’s stone injure Goliath, or simply bounce off without any consequence?

What do you think?

7 Responses to “Wings, Dreams and Nightmares”

  1. Will Kemble-Clarkson says:

    Macklemore is giving a personal account of how brands can have a sinister impact on society – particularly the less well-off parts of it. It’s not a Nike problem, it’s a brand problem. If this video leads to kids being more aware of the influence brands have on them, then I don’t think there’s a sane person amongst who would say that’s a bad thing.
    Whilst I’m sure Goliath could roll on oblivious, they do have an interesting opportunity – how to keep inspiring kids to chase dreams (wings) without making them feel they need their product to do so.

  2. Chad Dick says:

    Will — I agree. While Macklemore chose to focus on Nike in this video, if I was at Reebok, Adidas, Puma or any other sports brand built on a similar ‘dream’ image, I’d be just as concerned. And I agree there is a larger critique about the role and importance of brands in kids lives that every marketer should pay attention to here.

    If I was in Nike’s shoes, I’d do a whole lot more of this kind of advertising in response — their ‘Greatness’ ad from 2012:

    The Challenge for them is that video only got 1.6MM views on YouTube…so the question is will they continue to do more ‘Be Like Mike’ (which sells a lot of shoes) or will they do more ‘Find Your Greatness’ (which challenges people to change their behaviour and outlook)…I, for one, can’t wait to see.

  3. Gunter Soydanbay says:

    This is a great and a bonafide challenger move. I really liked the boldness of the approach. Will it be successful? It depends on how they define success.

    If they want to create a niche for themselves in the market, I definitely think they’ll accomplish that. If they want to change the way people think about brands, then the odds are against their favor.

    Over his career, Michael Jordan stated many times that he does not know how and why “he” became Michael Jordan. He was not aware that he became more than a human being – He embodied one of the two dominant American archetypes. We all witnessed it unknowingly. That’s the beauty of collective unconscious.

    Michael Jordan (and his sneakers) stand for more than coolness or accomplishment. It is the ignitor of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in kids. That’s an evolutionary need that can’t be replaced or suppressed. He stands for fighting your fear, taking the journey, almost failing but overcoming all obstacles. This smart brand can successfully challenge a portion of the market, but in order to overtake the market, they have to out-Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan.

    Here is an archetypal reading on “Brand Jordan”:

  4. Chad Dick says:

    Gunter – interesting perspective and analysis of brand Jordan as an archetype. I particularly agree with your idea of the ‘shadow’ of the archetype or brand. It’s important to remember, the taller the brand, the longer the ‘shadow’ story it can create — just ask Nike, Wal*Mart, Microsoft and Apple. The ‘shadow’ I’m referring to is the ‘dark side’ of any brands story or archetype…and all brands have one, and this video is a clear reminder to know what yours is, otherwise you can get caught off guard.

    As for your assertion that MJ didn’t ‘know’ or was ignorant about how his brand got so big, I’m not sure I agree with that. Earlier in my career, I worked on Wheaties, and MJ was our well-paid sponsor. I know from firsthand experience dealing with his agents and Michael himself that he was very involved and had a clear plan how to build and manage his brand. So for him to state he doesn’t understand how/why his brand got so big would seem to me a little disingenuous on his part.

  5. Chad Dick says:

    PS -if you listen to the lyrics, there is a line that references the “commodity”. Personally, I think this is the only bit that doesn’t fit with Maclemores POV…I think he should have used the word “Brand” instead, because people don’t covet or dream about commodities, but they certainly do about brands. Makes me wonder if Macklemore really understands what a “brand” really is — for all it’s benefits AND ‘shadows’…I suspect he does, because his music, look and videos have all the signs of another well conceived “brand” on the rise!

  6. Gunter Soydanbay says:

    Thank you for your answer Chad. I felt like I needed to clarify my comment.
    I have no doubt about the business and marketing acumen of Michael Jordan. Assuming otherwise would be foolish. Him and Magic Johnson are two great business men/retired legends.
    What I meant was that he mentioned in different occasions that he did not know why “he” became “the” Michael Jordan, an athlete who transcended basketball, sports, politics and even business itself. Literally in all human activities, the highest bar could be labelled as “Michael Jordan of…” That level of excellence is not only a byproduct of branding. Actually, not even his on court accomplishments can explain the status he has achieved.
    My take is that he happened to have the courage and skills to embark on a journey and live the perfect story, Campbell’s Monomyth.

  7. Chad Dick says:

    Gunter – fair point and good clarification. To that I’d add that no brand can achieve the kind of legendary or iconic status like Jordan without offering an incredible “product” or “experience.” in MJs case, it begins and ends with his on the court performances and records. Without those, he couldn’t have become THE ‘Michael Jordan’ of anything. Perhaps his expression of disbelief is either plain modesty (but probably not humility…he wasn’t known or that!) or comes from the fact that he didn’t watch/witness his own greatness on the court as much as the rest of us did as spectators and fans.