15 July 2016 14:22:19 IST

Nike holds the flag up high for celebrity advertising

It is okay to splurge on a celebrity ambassador, but keep a few things in mind while doing it

The 2016 Wimbledon Women’s championship was all about Serena Williams! She equalled Steffi Graf’s record of 22 Grand Slams and beat her own record of being the oldest female player to win the record. I guess most people were happy as they admire her tenacity, fitness and will to win; none more than Nike, the brand that she endorses. Let’s, for the moment, ignore my disappointed friends who, for reasons unknown, were supporting Maria Sharapova, a former Nike model. Let us come back to Serena. Watch this Nike commercial featuring her, if you haven’t already:


Having been in advertising for too long, I can’t rate it as an all-time classic, but it brings out an important feature of the brand and that is “attitude”. Nike is all about champions who hate to lose and Serena certainly is a champion. And as her record demonstrates, the one thing she hates is losing, even to her distinguished sister.

Catch them young

Nike was not always the dominant brand that it is today. In the early days, Phil Knight would roam the colleges of the US with the shoes in his car, find budding athletes and exhort them to wear his shoes. Some of them obliged, and the few who graduated to being champions remembered the brand that had supported them before they were stars. The brand’s essence though was clear — it was for athletes who had the grit, desire and attitude to put in the hard miles. People who hated to lose — whether it was Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Shane Warne or Serena Williams.

Match the celebrity with your brand’s personality

While signing on a champion athlete for your brand per se is no big deal, Nike’s best ambassadors have been those who were at times on the edge in their behaviour; people who didn’t always conform. These people have had their brushes with authority and often, controversy. They don’t hold back. A bit like Serena, who spoke about the disparity in prize money awarded to men and women in tennis or wore clothes that raised eyebrows. Two such earlier champions were Andre Agassi and Shane Warne. Since I am assuming that you are cricket mad like me, let me wax eloquent on the greatest spinner of my lifetime. One of Nike’s best commercials featured the classic spinner and the script is worth recalling, though the commercial has been pulled off YouTube.

When would you give up, the voice over asks. When the wickets refuse to fall? When you are told your team is better off without you, or when your child is born on the other side of the world? And we have a dejected Shane Warne in the frame, but as they say, you can’t keep a Nike model down. The film cuts to him bowling Herschelle Gibbs out, an unplayable ball in the 1999 World Cup semi-final and the rest as they say, is history. The commercial then ends with the celebrated Nike tag line — “Just do it” Shane Warne was the highest wicket taker in the 1999 World Cup that I had the good fortune to watch live.

Think long-term

This leads me to the learning from Nike a brand I admire. Nike thinks long-term when it comes to celebrities. Today, sadly many brands and brand managers are obsessed with the short run and quick fixes. Nike’s celebrity strategy is not new, and some of the greatest sportsmen and athletes have been proud ambassadors of this superior brand. This is an important aspect of successful brands like Pepsi and Nike thathave been consistent in their strategy of always using celebrities. In the case of Nike, there is another feature about the celebrities that I have noticed and admired. Nike has always looked for champion athletes and sportsmen, but like in the case of Warne, the sportspeople have always been those who live life on the edge, those who are unafraid of speaking their mind, and who have the odd transgression as they are human after all. But they are all people with “attitude” and people who hate losing.

So what’s your strategy?

This leads me to an important question for your brand. Yes, it is okay to use a celebrity and pay an arm and leg for it. But do you have a strategy in place and more importantly, is it a long term strategy? And finally, does your celebrity’s personality match your brand’s personality?

Think about it before just doing it!