March 2006 – Larry Miller, President of The Jordan Brand, finally had a few moments to relax. He sat in his office in the Jerry Rice Building at the Nike World Campus in Beaverton, Oregon, taking in the late afternoon sun. The latest advertising campaign was a success and sales were at an all-time high. But Miller knew that now was the time to plan for tomorrow’s success. He turned to the briefs on his desk, which contained various recommendations about how to improve the Jordan Brand’s collection of athlete endorsers. Four potential endorsers in particular stood out, each representing a new strategic direction for the brand to take. Miller needed to decide which, if any, of these individuals he would like to pursue. He knew that Michael Jordan, who had final say on this matter, would expect a convincing argument no matter what Miller decided. He thought back to some of the key events that really defined the Jordan Brand…
Shaping Brand Jordan
The Shoe that Changed Everything
Nike signed Michael Jordan to an endorsement deal in 1984 out of the University of North Carolina, where his successful college basketball career had included a national championship. Jordan was an exceptional athlete known for high-flying dunks. In 1985, Nike produced a shoe called the “Air Jordan” designed in the red and black color scheme of the NBA team Jordan played for, The Chicago Bulls. The shoe was remarkable for its extreme looks (almost all basketball shoes at that time were primarily white in color) and for its use of Nike’s new compressed air cushioning technology, Nike Air™. The NBA initially banned the shoe because its unusual red and white color scheme violated existing league dress code rules, creating a debate in the media that engendered widespread national coverage.
This convergence of the shoe’s attributes, the controversy of the ban, and Jordan’s budding star power turned the Air Jordan into a very sought-after shoe. Surprised by the high level of demand, Nike produced millions of units of the Air Jordan in 23 color variants, eventually leaving retailers flooded with extra pairs. Having learned from their mistake, in 1986 Nike released a complete redesign of the Shoe known as the Air Jordan II in carefully limited quantities. This strategy of releasing a limited number of redesigned Air Jordans each year, the same shoe in which Jordan would play, was not only an original business model, but highly successful. Nike supported the launch of every Air Jordan with memorable TV advertising campaigns that highlighted different aspects of his personality. Famous film director Spike Lee helped make the Air Jordan a status symbol in the popular 1989 ads depicting Lee's Mars Blackmon character pitching the Air Jordan III while proclaiming, “It’s Gotta Be the Shoes!”
Even 20 years later, every release of the new Air Jordan was anticipated by fans who eagerly snatched them up from retailers around the world. The shoe continued to be a leader in the footwear industry in terms of product design, technical features, and innovative packaging.
The Seeds of the Jordan Brand
The Nike employees with whom Jordan worked most closely became his allies and friends. He trusted them to build footwear that was an authentic representation of him as a player. The closeness of these personal relationships was an asset to all involved until designer Peter Moore and marketing director Rob Strasser decided to leave Nike in1987 and appeared to be taking Jordan with them. In a tense meeting involving Jordan, his parents, and Nike founder Phil Knight, designer Tinker Hatfield unveiled the Air Jordan III. In a difficult decision between various individuals who had earned his trust, Jordan chose to stay with Nike. Once Jordan fully committed to Nike, he was uncompromising in his loyalty. As a member of the 1992 US Olympic Basketball “Dream Team,” he famously covered...