Nike and the Hero Archetype: A Brand Case Study
When you hear the word Nike what comes to mind? More importantly, how do you feel? If Nike’s marketing team has anything to do with it, they want you feeling empowered, inspired and nothing short of heroic. Selling more than sportswear, Nike aims to transform the average gym-goer into a bonafide gladiator. Considering they rank #16 in best global companies (source), I’d say their use of the Hero has earned them a spot among the gods.
Founded in 1964 by Bill Bowerman and Phil Knight, Nike’s name derives from the winged Greek goddess of victory. As a distributor for the Japanese shoes now known as ASICS, Nike’s first ‘waffle’ trainer didn’t made its appearance until 1974 (source). What followed was the rise of one of America’s - and now world’s - most successful sportswear companies.
Known for its ‘Just Do It’ campaigns, Nike pioneered the way for regular people to step into the shoes of their athlete idols. Advertisements asks customers to step outside their ordinary worlds to reach the peak of performance; they ask customers to stop being fans and instead become the sports star they admire from afar.
Quality of product aside, what makes Nike’s brand story so popular is its use of the Hero archetype in communicating the brand’s soul and purpose.
A Brief Intro to the Hero Archetype
Wonder Woman, John Wayne, Nelson Mandela, the Olympics, the Red Cross, and franchises such as Star Trek or Mission Impossible are all great examples of the Hero archetype. The Hero thrives where challenges await and courageous action is required. Heros are found on battlefields, on the court, in the streets, at work, or in politics.They want to make the world a better place and must fight ‘the bad guy’ to restore peace and harmony to their communities.
The beauty of using an archetype allows brands to diversify their markets without diluting their core brand story.
The Hero’s journey is not only an external battle but an internal one as well. The Hero must face their weaknesses in order to prevail, requiring them to transform along the way. The Hero doesn’t start out as the most popular character and they often represent the underdog who earns respect and accolades along the way.
Nike’s Use of the Hero: A Case Study
“The company’s central mission is to understand and inspire the soul of the athlete, and its current slogan “Just do it,” promotes the heroic virtue of the courage to act.” - Mark and Pearson, The Hero & The Outlaw
1 | BECOMING THE HERO
Using the Hero archetype as a foundation for all marketing material, Nike’s strategy is to provide consumers with an opportunity to have heroic qualities similar to the ones they admire in world class athletes. Using a combination of famous athletes and real people in their ads, they’ve been able to bridge the gap between a customer’s belief of what’s possible.
2 | INSPIRING CHANGE
By pitting the customer (positioned as the Hero) against physical odds, Nike empowers them to triumph over any struggle they encounter. More importantly, Nike’s been able to help the customer triumph over internal struggles as well. By positioning their products to synonymously represent the overcoming of obstacles, Nike’s able to empower customers to get off the couch and onto the pavement.
3 | PROOF OF POSSIBILITY
‘Rise and Shine,’ one of Nike’s most inspirational longform ads, represents the heart of the Nike Hero. Print ads such as these visually enhance the Hero’s journey. The #betterforit campaign introduces a platform for women athletes as Nike finds momentum in the women’s empowerment movement, something I’ve referenced as the ‘Shero’ in my own work.
4 | KEEPING MOMENTUM
Nike’s use of the Hero is comprehensive: every person is represented in their marketing, from the physically disabled to the amateur sports star, as well as every color, language and culture. Nike’s dynamic engagement with their target market allows them to grow with their various segments. Instead of staying stagnant, they’ve successfully stood out by sharing diverse stories.
5 | STAYING TRUE TO THEIR STORY
Finally, Nike’s story has stayed on-point. The beauty of using an archetype - not just the Hero - allows brands to diversify their markets without diluting their core brand story. Because archetypes are universal and well-known across cultures, tapping into their power allows brands of all sizes to communicate their purpose with passion.
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