Defining the Brand: Nike
I'm gonna show you a couple examples of how I've been fortunate enough to do this with some of the companies that I've worked with. And Nike is a little company in the Pacific Northwest in Portland, Beaverton, Oregon. Nike has a great story. And this is consistent with any great brand, they have a founder story. They started that brand for a reason. So all of you, most of you know the story of a coach and his runner, Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, had a great idea to create a new kind of running shoe and be competitive in the marketplace, do it different than everyone else. So they teamed up and created Nike. So had a great founder story. And when I started working at Nike, I learned that story. I internalized that story. When you work for a company, so if you're in-house, let's say, and you join, like I did, when you join a company like Nike it's like joining a religion. You learn all the tenets of the religion 'cause my job there was to get converts to that religion. You wanna convin...
ce people to buy your product. So it doesn't matter if you're a nonprofit or a for-profit, you're trying to get people to join and move in your direction. So in order to do that, you have to know that brand really well. And it's wonderful, I loved working in-house, working on the client-side for so long, 'cause you're really able to get deep into it and know all the nuances and the history and the emotion of that. And Steve Prefontaine, of course, figures prominently in the history of Nike. And the reason why he's important is because he's the spirit of Nike. If you're familiar with his story, he was kind of a come from behind kind of guy, hardscrabble kind of upbringing and just worked harder than everyone else. Not necessarily naturally more talented, but he just worked harder than everyone else. And he became kind of the spirit of Nike. And so when we were at Nike, we would refer a lot to pre-Prefontaine and the spirit and that carried forward a lot in the communication that we did. So when I was there, communication was everything from big events, like the Olympics, to Niketowns, where you create those stories, and had a lot of room to tell that story. So if you think of a Niketown, you walk in there and there's, it's like a temple to your brand. And a lot of brands have those now. Nike was one of the first to have kind of those the big brand stores. So you walk in, and you have the luxury of telling that story how you want, and where you want. But contrast that to an aisle at a sporting goods store, if it's footwear or apparel. So you don't have much chance to tell your brand story 'cause you have all the competitors are there, and you're on this little wall right here and you have to stand out somehow. Or if it's on a grocery store, the difference between Starbucks, walking into a Starbucks store and then going into a grocery store and seeing it on the shelf. So you just, how are you gonna get that experience? And one thing that we really learned, or that I learned, at Nike was about listening to the consumer. There is a balance between, as a brand, knowing who you are and what you want the consumer to feel when they encounter your brand, but you also have to listen to the consumer. When we were at Nike, we saw that there were these sneaker freaks, the guys that collect all the different sneakers, and we saw what they were doing with those, in the early days they would take a couple different ones and they'd paint them up or they'd cut pieces off and put them on another one and we thought "Oh, wow that's pretty cool" and then, you know, technology caught up with us and we were able to create NIKEiD, where you're able, a lot of you are familiar with that. And it's a great experience, where you're able to actually be a footwear designer. So when I was at Nike, I'd run into young kids and they'd go "Wow, you work at Nike, I want to work at Nike." "I wanna design the next Jordan." Every kid wants to be a footwear designer. So technology has brought us to a place where the brands can now have the consumers participate in their brands, in co-designing with them. A kid can go online and they can design their footwear, their sneaker, and they can tell their friends "Hey, I designed this, I did everything on this." So it's a great experience and Nike's had a lot of success with that. So when I made that transition from acting to the corporate world, and all those little steps that I experienced along the way, those entrepreneurial steps, you start getting to know people through that. I started off at Nike, I was doing some video work with them and then they were kind enough to offer me a job in their creative group. And this was in the early days of Nike, this was before they had computers on the desks, and I didn't have a background in design or advertising. I was an actor, you know I knew how to get up on a stage and emote and be a tree and all those things. (audience laughter) So but then when I started at Nike, you know they said "Well we like your eclectic background "and you know you can do all these different things" and Nike is great, really great about hiring people like that that come from varied backgrounds. And they have creative minds and you can always learn skills but to be a smart thinker, a strategic thinker, that's harder. So when I started there, I just kind of learned on the job. Went on photo shoots and learned how to do that, went on press checks and hung out with product designers, and industrial design. When computers were invented, they showed up on our desk, learned that. So it was a great experience for me, and a great background for the rest of my career 'cause what I saw is that it really works when you have all the disciplines together. So having this siloed approach of here's your graphic design department, here's your industrial design department, and here's interactive, et cetera. What worked really great there is when everything was together and it's just this mash of creative ideas. And then yes, you had those experts that are trained in those areas and they can execute, but when you create that story from the beginning with a cross-discipline team, then it's much more powerful. So at Nike, I saw this as a, for me it was a creative playground. It's like "Wow, all this cool stuff that we get to do here "and all these great resources." So yes you got work orders, and you were given work to do while you were there, but for me it was just like I never wanted to go home. So I started coming up with ideas that weren't on my desk, they weren't on a work order, I wasn't assigned to do them. And I remember, this was an idea that an old friend, Derek Welch and I, came up with. And we went to, we were launching a shoe called the Presto and it came in 17 different colorways, and it was a very simple silhouette, very, like a little piece of art. So I had this idea to present it as art, so went to Marketing Director at the time, Dave Larson, amazing guy who I had developed a great relationship with and this is a little sidenote over here is that the relationships you make along the way will create your career. After many years in the industry now, I've met a lot of people. If I have offended a lot of people along the way, or if people didn't enjoy working with me, that would seriously hamper my career, and anyone's career. So it's about those relationships you make, because you're genuinely a nice person, has to be first of all, and then you have to be talented. You have to know what you're doing and you have to show results. So, you know, after 20 years at Nike, LEGO, Starbucks, you get to know a lot of people, a lot of amazing people. And you know Dave's an example of that, who, someone they just, I remember as I'd walk across campus, I'd just stop at peoples' cubes or offices and just say "Hey, how's it going?" So I didn't want anything from them, sometimes not even a project with them, just kept those relationships alive. And Dave's a good example of someone I went to and just said "Hey, I had this kind of this cool idea. "Wanna put these shoes on the wall "in Meatpacking District in New York "in a gallery, call it art, put no branding on it, "invite art critics to the opening, and see what happens." He goes "Okay, sounds cool." So you know, wrote a check for it, and that's what we did. We put the shoes on the wall, called it art, and people would walk into it. It was in the gallery section there, and they'd walk in and they'd look at it and go "Wow, this is more about art "than most of the art in the city, man." And they wouldn't touch it either, they would just walk up to it, you know here it is right here, they'd walk up, you know how you do an art gallery you just put your hands behind your back, so everyone did that, no one touched them. It was a footwear wall, you know right down the street was a sporting goods store. In there they would just pick it up and try it on, but here they wouldn't because we set that environment, that expectation, it was an art gallery. So it was very successful, it got written up in a bunch of magazines and art and fashion and all that, and when, this was a month before the shoes launched, and created a lot of buzz and so when it launched, they sold out. And here's some of the, we put wild postings around the city see those that just says "Presto", it doesn't have any branding on it, it doesn't say "Nike Presents" or anything else. It was just all about building buzz, and then behind the shoes were like big Pantone chips of color. So it was, because they came in 17 different colorways, a way to reinforce that. And of course being thrifty, after they launched, cut the wall in half and put it in the Macy's 34th Street window as a display unit. So that was an amazing project, and that all came from just coming up with an idea. So, again, no one asked for it. It's about looking for opportunities, looking for business opportunities. So I think the moment that it changed from being, like when I was at Nike, from being the Graphics Department on the second floor, to being a strategic partner in the business, is when we started coming up with ideas on our own. Because we knew the business, the designers, creatives, are one of the few inside a company that interact with all the different departments of the company. Many times I've seen how, it's like "Wow, have you talked "to them because you're both coming to us "with kind of the same project here." So creative is kind of like that funnel, where everything comes here before it goes out to the consumer. So it's a great opportunity to be aware of everything that's going on, and how you can drive the business forward. So being entrepreneurial as a creative is very important. Here's another example. This kind of brings all that acting thing, so this made my dad happy because the whole time I was going into acting he's like "Are you sure, you sure you want to do that, you know?" (laughter) So finally got a real job you know at Nike and, "But Dad, I got a Kevin Bacon number of three, come on." (laughter) So this was me looking at Nike, at the time, and they basically, they created a product, we created product at the time, and we basically did five things with it. We created a product, we attached an athlete to it, did a big commercial, sold it at retail, and did an event around it. But if you think of the consumers, in 24 hours in a day of a consumer, they're in a lot more places than that. They watch TV, they have their devices, there's movies, there's comic books, there's television, there's all those different video games, all those things. So that was the whole concept, it's like well, we're already doing this really cool thing, we created this really cool thing, and we're just starting, and then we kinda move onto the next thing. We throw a lot of money around it, then it kind of dissipates. So why can't we do a video game around it? Or why couldn't we do a book series or movie and all these things. So that was in the early days of, I don't know if that term existed yet, of branding entertainment. So I did this at night, I had my regular job where I would do the creative work and then starting developing this idea at night. And then I found a few sympathetic creatives in Matt Schmunk and Neil Webster. And another little sidenote, they're still with me today. Neil has come along the journey with me, Nike, LEGO, Starbucks, Tether. And Matt has been Nike, Lego, skipped Starbucks, then joined me at Tether. But you develop those relationships, both with clients, potential clients, people you've worked with, also employees, fellow colleagues. And this is a real bonding experience that we had, is we created this Nike Entertainment. And then found another person, who was a business guy at Nike, who he was looking for new business ideas and so he, his name's Andrew Black and he was very excited about the idea. And he helped develop it from a business standpoint. And all these years later, we're still partners in a lot of business things that we're doing. So the whole thing was, let's create this Nike Entertainment World. Let's show then what it could be like. So what we did, we created a line of books. We actually mocked up some books, we wrote some sample chapters and things, and we went to New York and we went around to publishing houses. And HarperCollins was very excited about doing it. We went to, we did a little pilot for a TV show, which I'll show you right here. And Nickelodeon was very excited about it. And we did video games and we did all these different websites and things. So lots of exciting things, and we basically put the whole thing together and met with Phil Knight and the executive team, kind of put it on the table and said "Here's a business." And they loved it. So this was called The Ref. Again scrappy, we just did it on our own, we just shot it on our own, edited it. You can see we got cheap talent in here. Matt and Neil, they shot it, Matt illustrated it and all that, so it was a really fun experience and this is what we used when we went to Nickelodeon and others. (upbeat band music) (alarm blaring) ♪ Get up get up get up get up ♪ (ball bouncing) (whistle blowing) ♪ So here I am ♪ ♪ Doing everything I can ♪ (squealing noise) ♪ Holding on to what I am ♪ ♪ Pretending I'm a Superman ♪ (knocking noise) (car engine) ♪ I'm trying to keep ♪ ♪ The ground on my feet ♪ ♪ It seems the world is falling down around me ♪ (buzzer) ♪ The nights are all long ♪ ♪ I'm singing this song ♪ (whistle blowing) ♪ To try and make the answers more than maybe ♪ ♪ And I'm so confused ♪ (club swinging) ♪ About what to do ♪ (flying noises) ♪ Sometimes I wanna ♪ ♪ throw it all away ♪ ♪ So here I am ♪ ♪ Doing everything I can ♪ (creaking noise) ♪ Holding onto what I am ♪ ♪ Pretending I'm a Superman ♪ (punching noise) (chipmunk laugh) (whistle blowing) (popping noise)
Okay, so there is The Ref. (laughs) That was a lot of fun to do and again that was all just made-up. Jim, do you have a question?
Yeah, quick question if you don't mind. So when you're creating that, how do you best step back as a creative director and communicate to that team so everybody on that entire team sort of knows is sort of driving toward that same story?
Well it was all about, again, starting with the business needs. So it goes back to the mission, the brand promise, all those different elements. Why did we want to do this, why do you wanna spend hours and hours, all night, working after our jobs to do this? Our mission was to create that 360-degree experience for our consumer, where we're gonna touch them in every part of their lives. If they wanted to invite us into their lives, we could be on their phones, on their video screens, the movie theater, books, comic books, all those things. Because we wanted to further that emotional connection with them, and we were gonna do it through entertainment, and we're gonna create products and services that would entertain you around, so it wasn't creating shoes, but it was taking, you saw that little video that was just showed. That was Nike Shox, it was just coming out. So it was creating excitement around Nike Shox without doing something blatant like a product placement in a movie or something. It was creating branded-entertainment. Let's create branded, let's use our brand to create entertainment for people that already love us. And they want us more in their lives. So that was kind of our mission as team. And part of the covertness of it was fun. "What are you all doing?" "Why are you here all night?" "You didn't go home last night?" And it was one of the most exciting career times in my life. And actually, I'll talk later about when I started Tether, but starting Tether, I was actually trying to recreate that. Because that was working with friends, people that I loved working with, and that I love, and creating this environment where we can make anything we can dream up. And that's what I wanted to recreate when I started Tether. 'Cause that's what that felt like, it's like "Hey, okay," you know you start with a, that's the exciting part of creation for any project. You start in your conference room, and you have the white walls. And you have a brief, and you just start and you go "Okay, what are we gonna do?" "Wait, who's our consumer?" "Why are we doing this?" You kind of go through the brief, hopefully you have a creative brief, or you create one for your client if you don't have one, or for yourself. And then you start populating the wall with ideas. Usually you start with some words, and then some images, you tear things off, print things off, inspiration, kind of the mood boards, and then you start working at it. And the magic for me is, going from, I never get tired of it. Back at Tether, at the studio, we do this every day. It always amazes me, I walk into the conference room, and either Greed, or Lust, or Envy, or Sloth or Wrath, we have Seven Deadly Sins conference rooms. And you walk in and you go from that white wall, to you just see it starting to get populated and by the time you're done you have this thing that's just like, "I want that." "I have to have that in my life." And that's what great brands are, you just create something out of nothing. For me, that's what replaced acting for me. Always thought I'd be an actor the rest of my life, and I guess I kind of am still. If you think of when you go to a meeting, or you walk in this room, any situation you have when you encounter people. So when I walk into a conference room and I'm presenting, I walk in and I'm in a board room of a corporation. We're in New York and I walk in, it's like walking on stage. I read the room, I go "Okay, who are the key players here?" "Who are the main characters here?" "Okay, who's the supporting players?" And those are sometimes the yes-man, and all that, they're supporting their bosses. So I know who the decision-makers are, and the supporting ones, and I know I gotta win both 'cause they always turn to each other, "Hey, what do you think?" "I don't know, what do you think?" And then, I had the script. So that's what I'm gonna say, what I'm gonna present, and it's what they're going to say as critique or response. But I have to listen to the script, that's the text, but then there's the subtext. What do they really mean? "Yeah, that was, that was really nice." So I'm listening for the subtext there, it's like, "Uh oh, I'm in trouble, they don't like it." I gotta move over to Plan C here. So I read the room, body language, all those things. So it's just like walking on stage, and that's why if you think of that, there's a protagonist, antagonist always in a brand. There's Apple and Microsoft. It's always good to have an enemy, always makes you better. And Nike and Adidas have always been foes, friendly foes with each other. So I love that, I think for me that was the best training that I could've had for what I do now, is acting, because it prepared me for presentation, coming up with creative ideas, studying the script, meaning studying the brand and who are the players, what's the landscape, all that. But also prepared me for rejection. As an actor, I'd go off and I get rejected every day. Three or four times. No problem. I know, 'cause there's another ten people who look just like me waiting to go into the room to audition. Sometimes I was successful, and sometimes I wasn't. I never took it personally, 'cause that's what an actor does. So same thing with what I do now, what we do now, is there's gonna be rejection and you can't take it personal. It's they don't like the thing that you've created. So learn from that, just like you do from an audition. "What could I do better next time?" And then you work on it the next time. And I think, I'll talk about it in another segment, a little more about that dynamic between creatives and clients.