Some important facts up front:
- By football, I mean soccer, as opposed to Aussie rules, league or union.
- However, by boot sales I mean all football boots sold for any code.
- At the time, soccer participation numbers in Australia were more than all other football codes combined.
- The target audience was male, soccer-obsessed teenagers. We knew if we could position Nike in their eyes as the brand to be seen wearing, the pack would follow.
The plan for sales success was anchored in brand success. Nike’s product range was incredibly strong, and our sales channels were well established. The focus was on changing the perceptions of the brand in the hearts and minds of those who mattered.
The biggest immediate impact Nike could make was to give a voice to the athletes. Athletes inspire us all to be better versions of ourselves. Athletes are authentic. Through athletes, Nike can attach the brand to emotion – that’s its magic.
Hearing the voice of the athlete is what the target audience craved. To be inspired by those who are doing it. To be authentic. To be better.
When it came to soccer, the intersection of brand impact and audience desire was Nike Football’s brand truth: Players define where the game is going.
To make an impact and bring the truth to life in Australia, we knew we had to secure the rights to leverage elite Australian football players.
The first thing we did was sign a deal with Football Australia to be the apparel sponsor for the Socceroos. At the same time, we aggressively pursued boot and apparel relationships with all current and potential Australian soccer players, plus the elite Aussie rules, league and union players – we knew brand momentum ultimately had to transcend soccer.
Over the next five years, our brand story evolved to reflect the changing fortunes of the Australian players – and indeed, the changing fortunes of Nike football boot sales.
In November 2005, when the Socceroos took to the ground for the FIFA World Cup qualifier in Sydney, Nike was still a distant second to Adidas in sales. But the Nike boot count on the elite players was telling a different story. The ‘swoosh’ was dominating on the pitch. Then we got lucky: the Socceroos qualified for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years. The sporting media had a story, and the Nike brand was riding the wave. Images of elite players wearing Nike boots were splashed across the media.
Nobody believed the Socceroos could make an impact at the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Nobody, that is, except the players – their belief was infectious. They spoke about the incredible sense of spirit when pulling on the green and gold – like an armour of relentless ambition to satisfy the burning hunger for respect and recognition. The players believed what they lacked in flair, they made up for with fight. While history would suggest that the Socceroos would be bundled out in the first round, we knew that our players would define where the game was going.
Austin Simms and Sean Jenner, who led our brand communication at the time, knew there was a story to tell. ‘Stuff History’ became our brand story for the 2006 FIFA World Cup. An aggressive campaign brought the story to life as the Socceroos not only made it out of the group stage, but also came within a bootlace of beating the Italians in the quarter-finals.
The Socceroos indeed stuffed history. And the football boot sales figures were beginning to do the same. The gap behind Adidas was closing.
Kicking it up another notch
With success came expectations. To find the next evolution of the Nike football brand story, we went back to the players.
As a unit, the Socceroos believed that while the flamboyant skills of the European and South American teams were to be admired, they could counter it with grit and determination – the hardened, resilient Aussie spirit. They believed the future was in their hands.
This time, the story Nike told was ‘Write the Future’. To create lived experiences, we went back to the Nike Football brand truth – players define where the game is going. For the next four years, we were relentless in creating lived experiences that brought this truth to life.
We brought the finest under-18 players in the land closer to the nation’s top professional players. We created secret, warehouse 3 v 3 tournaments. An under-16 best-of-the-best club competition had the soccer world buzzing. We flew the winners to Manchester United headquarters for a week, to play at Old Trafford. We teamed elite coaches with elite junior talent in mentor sessions.
During this whole journey, the Nike Football story was tracking positively. The big retailers could sense the shifting tide among the influencers. As soon as we saw momentum building, we doubled down.
We created the most rewarding lived experience of all: a talent search for the best unsigned soccer player in Australia. We called it ‘The Chance’. It was an opportunity to be discovered and trained by some of the leading coaches in the world. Ron Smith, the former Socceroos technical coach, spotted a gangly 17-year-old lad named Tom Rogic. In three short months, Rogic went from playing amateur league in Canberra to the global footballing spotlight. His talents and efforts earned him the ultimate prize of a year at the Nike Football Academy in the UK.
But this was only the beginning of his story. Rogic played in the A-League, Australia’s most elite club competition. He then switched to a European league and became a club star for Celtic in the Scottish Premiership. On debut, he was man of the match. The media called him ‘The Wizard of Oz’. There were ups and downs, but over time, Rogic became part of the furniture at Celtic as they strung together seven Scottish Premiership titles in a row. All the while, he was Nike’s poster boy in Australia. He had written his own future – and by no coincidence, we were now within reach of Adidas.
Almost seven years to the day after the Socceroos first wore the Nike strip and qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Rogic debuted for his country. Again, he lit up the field and became a regular starter and goal scorer for the Socceroos.
Nike’s Amazing Brand Story became his Amazing Brand Story, which became the story that every soccer-obsessed teenager was talking about. Experiences create believers.
In 2010, Nike took top spot in football sales from Adidas for the first time ever in Australia. It was a stunning company-wide team effort.
It’s easy to lose sight of the seed once the tree has grown. The impact we made was possible because of the brand truth we revealed, the stories we told and experiences we created. Nobody asked us to come to the party. We just arrived with a truth and ruthless determination to win.
This is an extract from the new book, Your Amazing Brand Story bybrand expert Tim Wood – youramazingbrandstory.com
We will be publishing more insights from the book in the coming weeks.