Who would have imagined it? After years on top, Nike suddenly looks like a world-class marathoner who, in midrace, questions whether he's got what it takes to keep on running. Nike's symptoms of distress: a global glut of shoes, flat sales in key markets, and declining profits. Moreover, the global brand champ that captured its own winning corporate mindset with the "Just do it" ad slogan has a new pitch, "I can"--to which investors seem to be retorting, "No, you can't." Losing faith, they have knocked Nike stock from its all-time high of $76 about a year ago to a recent $46.
What happened? While Nike has tripped on fickle fashion trends and heightened competition before, its main obstacle today appears to be its own success. Here's why:
BIG-BRAND BACKLASH. When he founded Nike in 1972, CEO Phil Knight contended that if "five cool guys"--the best and most popular athletes--wore his shoes, other people would want to as well. The strategy worked wonderfully, of course, and now Nike controls an astounding 47% of the U.S. athletic-shoe market. But the brand has become too common to be cool. "I call it the Izod syndrome," says John Horan, publisher of Sporting Goods Intelligence, referring to the once-hip golf shirt. "Nike is everywhere." Brand expert Watts Wacker, chairman of the consulting firm FirstMatter, believes that the ubiquity of the Nike logo--the over-Swooshing of America--turns off important core consumers, the 12- to 24-year-olds. "When I was growing up, we used to say that rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel," Wacker says. "Today, rooting for Nike is like rooting for Microsoft."
THE MARLBORO MISTAKE. Indeed, many cool-conscious youngsters have gravitated to other brands such as Adidas (which sells sneakers at lower prices) and Timberland (a leader in the outdoorsy "brown shoe" trend). Instead of responding with hotter products or lower prices, Nike did what many overconfident giants do (think Marlboro, pre-Marlboro Friday):...
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