My Nike Swishy's Stay Crispy

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Here's a profile on Phil Knight by Jackie Krentzman that appeared in Stanford Magazine back in 1997:

Make no mistake: As athletically awesome and charismatic as Michael Jordan is, he alone did not make Nike as recognizable worldwide as Coke and McDonalds. Nor did he make "Just Do It" the slogan that best encapsulates the 1990s. Nike is a cultural icon because Knight understood and captured the zeitgeist of American pop culture and married it to sports. He found a way to harness society's worship of heroes, obsession with status symbols and predilection for singular, often rebellious figures. Nike's seductive marketing focuses squarely on a charismatic athlete or image, rarely even mentioning or showing the shoes. The Nike swoosh is so ubiquitous that the name Nike is often omitted altogether.

"Phil understands the symbolic power and attractiveness of sports," says A. Michael Spence, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Nike board member. "And he helped build that connection in our culture."

Knight also understood that this lust for heroes and appreciation for in-your-face attitude is not limited to American youth. He correctly predicted that American culture was a marketable commodity—that teenagers from Paris to Shanghai would be just as taken with Charles Barkley's ample attitude as teenagers in Trenton and San Diego.

No company has put as much creative energy and resources into marketing celebrities as Nike. If, as Marshall McLuhan famously said, advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th century, then Nike is its Picasso, imaginatively expanding the parameters of the medium's use of the athlete-endorser. "We didn't invent it," Knight acknowledges in an interview, "but we ratcheted it up several notches."

[Photo Via: The London Vandal]