Tuesday Talk - Nike Brand President on Beijing, London, Beyond
(ATR) Charlie Denson, President of the Nike Brand, tells Around the Rings
he expects London 2012 to be "every bit as big" as any Games ever.
Charlie Denson, President of the Nike Brand. (ATR)
Denson also discusses social media, the Brazilian market, the legacy of Beijing 2008, the promise of the Youth Olympic Games and more throughout this wide-ranging interview conducted during SportAccord by ATR
Editor Ed Hula.
Around the Rings:
What does London 2012 mean for Nike? Why is it an important event for you?
London will be every bit as big as any Summer Olympics we’ve ever seen, we expect.
It gives us the opportunity to really communicate on a much broader scale in a much broader way around our brand and its attributes. But it also gives us the opportunity to introduce some of our newest and biggest innovations and you will see that again this summer at the Olympics.
What kind of new products?
The Nike Flyknit Racer. (Nike)
You’ll see things like what we call Flyknit technology, which is a new and innovative way to construct the upper of a performance piece of footwear. It’s a single knitted upper that can be literally, by computer, built around specific stress points in an athlete’s foot, it can create an aesthetic that has been up-to-date undoable. So it will be a new look and from a performance standpoint, it will be a higher performing piece of equipment, and third it is zero-waste, and a 100 percent sustainable product on the upper construction.
What kind of physical presence will you have in London?
Obviously, we will have several retail locations which we always have, one being Nike Town London which is there in Oxford Circus, which represents one of our biggest single retail destinations in the world. So the fact that the Games are coming to London, we get to leverage that in new and different exciting ways.
Nike Town London. (Getty Images)
We will be there in force obviously with our relationships through the athletes through federations that we sponsor, uniforms and product and equipment that we will be used throughout the Games in various sports.
So it will be a great opportunity, and then obviously we will have a global advertising and communication plan that will take effect as we move into that time period.
How much of the campaign promotion will be directed into the social media?
A very large part. I think we continue to move more and more of our focus and our spend into that digital realm, whether it’s through the social media opportunities, whether it’s through digital publications and communications.
It’s becoming a bigger and bigger factor; it gives us the ability to really converse more specifically to different communities and be more strategic and more surgical in those communications and then you’ll see the traditional TV advertising that hits a much broader base of consumer interaction and activity.
Does Nike have a favorite among them? Facebook? Twitter?
Nike boasts 9,288,390 likes on its Facebook page.
We actually use them all. I think that’s the one thing we realized very early in our digital transformation is that we are not in charge of that – the consumer is – and so the ability for the consumer to access and use is far more important than our ability to control.
Do you ever see the day coming when your spend on advertising, your work in advertising is more heavily weighted towards social media than the traditional media?
I think it’s already come and gone, I think we have already moved past that day.
How do you know it’s working? How do you know you’re reaching people and they’re acting on the message?
Because they are telling us, I mean that’s the unique opportunity the digital world gives you. You can have millions of individual conversations; it is a two-way dialog. If you try and talk to a young consumer today they will turn you off, they only want to engage if they are being listened to. And so if we’re listening and we're responding to what they are saying then they stay engaged; if we’re not then they don’t.
Nike and using the Olympic Rings, that’s never been a big part of how Nike markets its products around the Olympics. It’s usually athletes that you work with and not through an organizing committee sponsorship or an NOC sponsorship. Is that still the case, or are there exceptions to that now?
It’s not the case where it’s an exception. I think when we have an opportunity to utilize those types of marks we certainly have. I think the more important piece is what type of relationship do we have and which ones do we leverage commercially.
The athlete is always been our focus and I think will always be our focus and our priority when it comes to the decision-making and strategic development of our plans whether it’s around the FIFA World Cup or the Olympic Games, or the European Premiership or the NFL or the NBA. I think we have great relationships with all those entities and enterprises; the athlete is still the essence of what we do.
What athletes will we see heavily associated with Nike this summer?
Team USA's basketball uniforms for London 2012. (Nike)
I think the great thing about the Olympic Games is the variety from which the competitions draw. You’ll see the traditional USA basketball team, the Brazilian football federation and some of the high-profile marquee athletes who are great.
One of the more compelling parts of the Olympic Games is always the surprise of who comes forward and who becomes a star and some cases a superstar when most of the people had never even heard of them and that’s what the Olympic Games gives you the stage to enjoy as a fan or as an observer.
Can you talk about Brazil, because that’s going to become important in the next four years, what kind of market do you have in Brazil, what are your expectations there?
Brazil is one of our fastest growing markets. And as you see them continue to develop both economically as well as statistically, it has become one of our major focal points, both from a brand development to a business development.
The opportunity to obviously host both the World Cup and the Olympic Games hasn’t been done since México City in 1968 and 1970. So I think the opportunity to see both of the world’s greatest sporting events literally in the same country within a two-year time is an incredibly large and amazing opportunity for a brand like Nike.
Nike is a longtime supporter of Brazilian football. Pictured here is Marta at the Athens 2004 Olympics. (Getty Images)
We have fantastic relationships in Brazil; we’ve had long-time relationships with many of the different athletes, the Confederation of Brazilian Football, we’re sponsors of their basketball federation as well as their track and field federation so we are very excited about Brazil and the opportunities that we think are going to be made available with hosting those two unbelievable events.
What did the Olympics do for Nike in China?
The great thing about the Olympics in Beijing is that it truly transcended sport. It was a confluence of politics and sport and economics and all those things that go into making truly a changing impact that that event had.
One of our focuses in China was to make sure that we were there once the Games left. So many times you see the Games come and go and the circus kind of comes and goes with it.
One of the things we are very proud of is our continuing both commitment and relationships with the Chinese government and what we were able to do.
We just signed a memorandum of understanding with the ministry of education that commits to participating and assisting the Chinese government in developing sport and play as part of the curriculum in their education system going forward. So it’s a big part of the future I think and a big part of the responsibility of a company like Nike to do things like that.
Has it been good for business?
Tiger Woods stopped by China last year for a promotional appearance alongside fellow Nike star Liu Xiang. (Getty Images)
It has been great for business; China still represents one of our biggest and fastest growing markets, it is going to be a $2 billion marketplace for us relatively soon. I think when you look at the potential of China long-term, we still believe it is one of the biggest growth areas of the company.
You talked quite a bit about getting young people engaged, off the couch and away from their devices, what do you think is the role of the IOC, the Olympics in generating that kind of movement, getting kids inspired?
I think the IOC can play an incredibly powerful and influential role. The Olympic Games represents the single biggest sporting event in the world. So that’s an incredible stage in which to communicate from.
I think that everybody has to embrace that consumers set up choices, and not ignore them, and say they don’t want to participate as part of them.
These kids have choices and they’re going to make choices based on putting something compelling and engaging and fun in front of them.
So embrace the technology that they have, embrace the perspective they have and use sport to create intersections where they are taking advantage already of some things.
So I think the potential and possibilities are unlimited, I just think you have to move out of where you’re looking from to a different perspective and look at it differently.
Do you think the Olympics needs to look at new sports, new events, activities that are more closely followed and participated in by young people?
Young footballers mark the completion of Nike's community training center in Johannesburg, South Africa ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. (Getty Images)
I think they should always do that. You should always continue to entertain and look at, but there’s so many different ways to make what we think of as the traditional sports more engaging for today’s youth.
I think those are opportunities that are literally low-hanging fruit.
It takes a little bit different perspective and little bit different approach and creativity and innovation to unlock the keys to what is an incredible enterprise and incredible brand and incredible experience that the Olympic Games represent.
And you like the idea of the Youth Olympic Games?
CD: Yes, I do, I think any time you can engage kids at an earlier age and capture their enthusiasm or interest, the chances of maintaining that over a longer period of time is certainly easier. And so I think it’s a great idea and you can try a lot of new things at the Youth Olympic Games that maybe you might look to move into the global event maybe sooner rather than later.
Interview conducted in Quebec City by Ed Hula. Transcribed by Evan Owens.
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