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.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

What happens to your business if you get COVID-19?

Four bosses who caught coronavirus share their tips.

NextGen winners: The firms that will lead Britain's recovery

Agility, impact and vision define our next generation of great companies.

Furlough and bias: An open letter to business leaders facing tough decisions

In moments of stress, business leaders default to autopilot behaviours, with social structural prejudices baked...

The ‘cakeable’ offence: A short case study in morale-sapping management

Seemingly trivial decisions can have a knock-on effect.

Customer service in a pandemic: The great, the good and the downright terrible ...

As these examples show, the best businesses put humanity first.

How D&I can help firms grow during a crisis

Many D&I initiatives will be deprioritised, postponed or cancelled altogether in the next three months....