Nike gets away from its brand with "influencers" campaign

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article, "Running Underground: To Sharpen Nike's Edge, CEO Taps 'Influencers,'" about Nike's new emphasis on popular culture to shape its brand.

As is usual when a brand gets ruined, the CEO, Mark Parker, is answering to Wall Street--he has promised a 50% increase in revenue by 2011--and therefore needs to turn to "fickle, style-conscious consumers" rather than the performance oriented athletes around which the company has built its brand.

The article says Nike "hasn't lost its traditional focus on pure sports"--it is acquiring British soccer brand Umbro PLC--but needs to "broaden and deepen its appeal--even among non-athletic types."

The CEO says things like "How do you keep an edge, a crispness, a relevance?"

As a result, Nike has worked with characters like Los Angeles tattoo artist "Mister Cartoon," who has designed six lines of limited edition shoes for the company. It has also collaborated with New York graffiti artist Lenny Futura, industrial designer Marc Newson, and Brazilian muralists Os Gemeos.

The idea is to create "an insider's buzz that widens out as it is discovered by consumers closer to the mainstream."

Will it work?

I don't think so. This seems to me like an approach that is close to the CEO's heart--says the Journal, "the CEO is drawn as naturally to art and culture as he is to sport"--but not close at all to the brand.

There are a few lessons here:

1. The CEO must be the brand champion, but the danger is that he or she will substitute personal preference or "gut instinct" for sound brand-based marketing research into how best to lead the brand forward. Nike's CEO likes popular culture, so he is leading the company in that direction. Big mistake.

2. When companies start answering to Wall Street, in the drive for profit, they can tend to lose the features that made their brand distinctive in the first place. I don't have an answer for this one but it is a real problem.

When you get away from the brand, you are in trouble.

Can McDonald's get its workers to rhapsodize about its quality?

According to a story in PRWeek, McDonald's is looking for internal brand ambassadors to spread the word about McDonalds' "quality message." The internal campaign complements an external one aimed at "real life moms" who "would push that quality message to their peers and others."

The McDonald's campaign is called the "McDonald's Brand Advocate (MBA) program." Its purpose, one assumes, is to get Mcdonald's employees and owner/operators to also push the quality message.

The manager of U.S. Communications at McDonald's "says the program will help its employees more effectively communicate specific messages about the McDonald’s story in their day-to-day work and personal lives."

Basically, the watchword is quality.

Heather Oldani, director US communications at McDonald’s, told PR Week that "the quality message is being taken so seriously" that McDonald's has formed a cross-functional team to address it -- people from all of the functional areas of the company are involved.

I say to you, McDonald's is dreaming if they think its employees are going to bring their work home and talk about McDonald's quality in their personal lives. Maybe they can be incentivized to do so at work. But even so, where in the customer service experience is there a place for a worker to go on and on about McDonald's quality? Their role is to say "May I take your order please?" and "Do you want fries with that?"

McDonald's is living in a brand fantasyland.

See also: branded training for front-line managers.

Search This Blog