History lessons - Phil Knight, sell the dream

Worth $7.9 billion now, Nike founder Knight started by selling shoes from his car boot at athletics meetings.

Last Updated: 08 Jun 2016

In 1964, the ex-middle-distance runner knew the appeal of affordable, high-performance shoes and imported his early wares cheaply from Japan. Knight eschewed advertising, convinced that the product sold itself.

But when Nike lost its market lead to Reebok in 1984, Knight changed tack, signing 21-year-old basketball rookie Michael Jordan in an unprecedented $2.5 million endorsement deal. Nike's black-and-red Air Jordan shoe was banned by the NBA, but Jordan kept on wearing it, with Nike paying the fines.

Notoriety assured, the shoes were a smash, and Knight had a formula. He saw the importance of hero-worship, status symbols and attitude in popular culture, and pumped cash into promoting the Nike lifestyle rather than the goods themselves. Lavish ads now venerated edgy, iconic sporting figures. It worked. Kids of the late '80s and '90s just had to have the right £100-plus Nikes. Sport, advertising and parenting would never be the same.

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