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Ad Agencies Need To Learn From Nike About Social Networking--And Just What Customers Want.

Posted by: Bruce Nussbaum on July 31, 2007

We’ve been having a great conversation on why most big ad agencies don’t get it when it comes to social networking (the ad people tell their corporate clients to chase the newest technology—FaceBook, Second Life— rather than stay in touch with their customers).

Ad agency folks might want to check out to see just what a great social networking site is all about. Nike joined with Apple to create a running shoe that was iPod friendly—an electronic sensor slips into the sole of the $100 Nike Air Zoom Moire shoe. It permits runners to listen to music while running. And it does more. You can log your distance, pace and calories on your iPod screen.

More important, Nike created a site where runners can go and challenge one another. They can map out courses, listen to coaching podcasts, mix music for runs, exchange advice. Just look at the site.

The key is to build a wide community space about something important to people and give them the tools to communicate and create their own stuff. Sure, have your product/service/ whatever there for people to see and perhaps choose but don’t “sell” them. You can’t hard sell consumers any more. You must now establish a relationship with people, partner with them, co-create with them. Nike+ does all that. And the site looks great too.

Nike recently moved its Nike running and Nike+ ad business from long-time Portland ad agency Wieden & Kennedy to Crispin Porter & Bogusky in Miami. So….

Reader Comments

Irene Pereyra

July 31, 2007 4:53 PM

Hi Bruce,

I have to disagree with you on this one. The Nike+ collaboration is a complete disaster. They attempted to create a multi-touch point experience, but restricted the experience by already making all your choices for you (it only works with certain shoes within Nike and only with the iPod nano btw).

Their new gizmo automatically locks you into their brands (and even their choices within their brands), and pretty soon you realize that this "highly personalized experience" they are selling to you is in fact, not so personalized at all, and fully maps out how they think you should be experiencing their products.

Then there’s the problem that most hardcore runners almost never run on Nikes, and with the $350 you have to fork out to get this fancy pedometer, they seem to be the target audience right?

Also, their heavy flash site looks great, but I think it does a terrible job of explaining exactly what it does, and if you go into a Nike store and try to get some information about it, all you’ll find is confused employees.

If we are talking about giving the user control, real control, not brand-oriented manufactured control, I think Nike+ is a good example of how not to do it.

It’s almost as if their intentions were to sell as much stuff to you as they possibly could and disguise it as “experience design”. It doesn’t look to me like they really stopped to wonder about what the consumer’s actual experience would be like at all.

Jack Cheng

July 31, 2007 5:03 PM

Nike+ won a titanium lion at Cannes, so it's definitely on the industry radar. Also, R/GA is still Nike's interactive agency (and they were the ones who brought the nike+ idea to the table).

(I've only skimmed through the comments of the other post, so apologies if I'm repeating what should be obvious)

It's a paradigm shift: for the past few decades, agencies have basically been creating content. The value from the consumer-perspective was in the entertainment. It made for good water-cooler conversation.

Nowadays that value's diminished, thanks to YouTube. You don't need an agency budget to produce and distribute something entertaining. As a result, there are virtually endless sources of entertainment. We're less likely to talk about that work CP+B did for Burger King because we're talking about the skateboarding dog and a million other things.

Sure, some ad people will tell you the good, memorable ads will get on YouTube, so there's still a place for great commercials, blah blah blah. But that's not the point.

The point is that if you're trying to compete by trying to be more "creative" (read: entertaining), good luck. It's you against the world. Literally.

The progressive projects, like nike+, aren't merely out to be entertaining. They get at the reason entertaining stuff worked in the first place: value.

So they try to create value in new ways beyond entertainment. It's a paradigm shift in the same way that ads went from being seen as providing information to being seen as providing entertainment.

Dear marketers,

I don't need you to entertain me anymore. I have plenty of that. I can live without your funny commercials. But you know what I need? I need someone to help me get in the habit of exercising more often.

That actually means something to me.

Brett Macfarlane

August 1, 2007 10:23 PM

I think a lot of people mistake this as a social networking experiment. The bigger thing here is a brand, Nike, rather than talking about running and trying to increase perceptions of value to runners, instead creating actual value for runners by developing a new training aid a community for runners to rally around. It is so much more than just a networking site. It is Run London, the Nike Runner's lounge in Vancouver, training podcast with Paula Radcliff on iTunes and countless other things. They all are part of a runners ecosystem where Nike doesn't just inspire you but gives you the tools and community to become a better or more devoted runner. Take away the social networking or add something else next year and the ecosystem is just as rich and broad.

Pete Mortensen

August 2, 2007 10:33 PM

I couldn't disagree more with Irene's analysis of the Nike+. While I'm not certain how successful their strategy has been, Nike very consciously created a constrained device -- not an overly designed one. If they have released the kit and claimed that it would be compatible with every pair of shoes and iPod in the market -- and for every kind of fitness activity possible -- then they would have had a product riddled with defects.

Instead, they went after runners (amateurs, at that), and iPod nano owners. It couldn't be simpler. They're learning in the process, and nothing is to stop the device from becoming compatible with additional iPods or supporting other activities. They kept it simple to begin, selectively highlighting a few features to curate the experience. Sure, it's frustrating. But Apple did the same thing with the iPod when they started, and we know hwo that one worked out...

Nike Shoes

October 19, 2007 5:26 AM

I really love Nike Plus, its changed my life,...for the better.

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Want to stop talking about innovation and learn how to make it work for you? Bruce Nussbaum takes you deep into the latest thinking about innovation and design with daily scoops, provocative perspectives and case studies. Nussbaum is at the center of a global conversation on the growing discipline of innovation and the deepening field of design thinking. Read him to discover what social networking works—and what doesn’t. Discover where service innovation is going and how experience design is shaping up. Learn which schools are graduating the most creative talent and which consulting firms are the hottest. And get his take on what the smartest companies are doing in the U.S., Asia and Europe, far ahead of the pack.

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