Nike is a long way beyond their roots, selling sneakers out of the back of a car to elite Portland, OR runners under the name Blue Ribbon Sports. They’ve become a global icon and now sell products for just about every sport and activity imaginable. Nike is far beyond their genesis story, and yet they continue to nurture and cultivate this, their Deeply Immersive Narrative Universe (DINU). Riding NJ Transit into the city this morning, I was sitting near this guy:
Sorry, it’s a little tough to see off my camera phone, but his t-shirt says, “Go Pre”. Pre is Steve Prefontaine, an inconoclastic running legend who died young and is the patron Saint of Nike. He was also the subject of not one, but two major motion pictures a couple of years back. This is a guy who died in 1975, never won an Olympic medal and competed in a sport that is barely on the radar. Yet Nike has worked so hard and been so authentic in the creation of their DINU that more than 30 years after his passing, 20 year old kids in New Jersey wear t-shirts emblazoned with his name.
And clearly it is a conscious decision to wear this shirt. There are plenty of t-shirts, plenty of Nike t-shirts to choose from. This kid, who did look like a runner (he was sporting some legit running shoes – not Nikes, interestingly enough), connected to the idea of Prefontaine and by extension, the idea of Nike.
Yes, Nike has a lot going for it, but they didn’t become what they are by luck. While they’ve constantly innovated and pushed the boundaries, they’ve also understood the importance of staying true to their roots – and when they didn’t in the early/mid-80s they paid the price.
Ultimately the lesson here is that no matter how big you get, no matter how much you have grown, there is power in the myths and legends of your roots. Building a lasting, compelling DINU means never forgetting that. I hope to have a post later regarding Starbucks and their current challenges in this area.