Top 10 Innovative Brands 2016: #1 Nike

The sportswear brand reaches beyond celebrity endorsers with events for the everyday athlete.

By Beth Kormanik May 17, 2016, 5:35 AM EDT

To showcase its cold-weather gear in December, Nike invited athletes to train in a gym on a barge in Chicago.

Photo: Courtesy of Nike

Nike has always celebrated top athletes—from Michael Jordan to Tiger Woods to Serena Williams—but the sportswear brand increasingly is engaging everyday athletes through its Nike Plus training community and including them in events. It’s part of a strategy intended to build relationships with consumers and help them meet their personal fitness goals.

For one series of events, the celebrity endorser isn't even an athlete. In 2015, comedian Kevin Hart led a series of 5K runs across the globe through the Nike Plus Run Club dubbed “Run With Hart,” reaching an estimated 15,000 runners. For 2016, the star is challenging people to “Move With Hart,” a high-intensity training event that has also toured global capitals.

In a site-specific activation, Nike came to Chicago in December to promote its cold-weather gear on a customized barge floating in the Chicago River. The #GetOutHere barge was outfitted as a floating gym, and the brand hosted four days of free training and running sessions led by Nike master trainers or Nike Plus Run Club coaches. The brand had been prepping for the event for months, asking athletes to post images to social media of themselves exercising outdoors. A group of 48 competitors were then flown to Chicago for a workout challenge, with one male and one female winner chosen.

In a stunt tied to this year’s Super Bowl, Nike outfitted a fleet of luxury Lamborghini sports cars with its signature swoosh and had star N.F.L. players deliver limited-edition shoes to Nike Plus members in the San Francisco area. The sneaker superfans received golden boxes containing collectible items such as Air Force 1 Precious Metal sneakers and a signed pair of Vapor Untouchable 2 cleats.

The Nike Plus events complement the brand’s long-standing event marketing calendar, which revolves around major sporting events. In Toronto, home of this year’s N.B.A. All-Star Game in February, Nike took over a streetcar and turned it into a mobile store dubbed the Snkrs Express. Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York likewise hosted activations. Also during the all-star weekend, the brand produced a 24-hour Jordan store pop- up with fan-friendly features such as a simulated basketball court for interactive gaming, a shoe sculpture from local artist Kwest, a slow-brew coffee station, a DJ booth, and an on-site barber.

After years of building up a memorable brand history, Nike can now draw on it for events. At the 2015 U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York, it recreated the Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi street tennis campaign from the ’90s with the retired stars as well as today’s tennis talent, including Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Maria Sharapova. They competed on a court painted onto city asphalt in the meatpacking district, branded with a Nike swoosh.

On the sponsorship side, Nike announced a major deal in its home state of Oregon. Starting in July, it will sponsor Portland’s bike-share program, a $10 million, five-year deal that will see bicycles designed in the brand’s signature burnt-orange color that come with a basket shaped like a shoebox.

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