Nike’s Jordan Brand is one of the most powerful brands in modern history. It’s as relevant today as it was in MJ’s prime, and that was on full display at this year’s NBA All-Star Weekend in Toronto.
Thousands of fans and media members descend on one city each year for the NBA All-Star festivities, while brands do their best to capitalize. As an agency, we get in the game by hosting a series of events during All-Star Weekend with our go-to non-profit, the Rock On Foundation. My GYK Antler teammate Luke Bonner doubles as the Executive Director of the Foundation and our MC for the weekend’s events. (Check out Luke’s recap of this year’s Rock On charity dinner with wine pairings from Coach Pop and our ‘Alt-Star’ party featuring an incredible DJ set from mash-up master Girl Talk.)
In between Rock On events and the most entertaining dunk contest since the Jordan days, I indulged my inner marketing geek by checking out some of the promotions and pop-ups that brands created for All-Star Weekend.
The most impressive activations came from Nike, and more specifically the Jordan Brand. There was a Nike bus that doubled as a retail store, picking people up at secret locations and giving them access to exclusive drops. A pop-up shop that stayed open for 36 hours straight, where you could not only purchase new and vintage Jordans but also test your basketball skills. And, my personal favorite, the Nike Lab where the brand’s design reps helped people customize Jordan sneakers, t-shirts, hoodies and sweats. While waiting for your gear you could also get a haircut from Drake’s personal barber, because what else would you do while waiting in a Nike fan’s dreamland?
There was even a line of people waiting to get into the Jordan pop-up when I went by at 2 am after the Rock On party. Did I mention it was negative fifteen degrees out?
This fanatic display made me wonder how the brand has managed to stay relevant for so long?
I grew up in the 80s and 90s, the golden era of mass-media dominance when a small number of large companies had a disproportionate amount of my attention. Nike was definitely one of them, and the Jordan Brand played a huge role in this.
Nike took a different approach to the partnership with Jordan from day one, long before anyone knew he would become the greatest player ever. By truly collaborating with him to create a signature line of sneakers and apparel, they launched an aspirational brand that quickly became a status symbol both on and off the court. I’ll never forget how it felt to put on my first pair, the Jordan IV’s.
Kids and adults around the world wanted to ‘Be Like Mike’ as he racked up championships, MVP awards and numerous endorsement deals. The Jordan Brand became a juggernaut and each new sneaker release was a major event.
As I walked around the Jordan pop-up in Toronto, it hit me. We’re 20 years from Jordan’s prime, and the brand is hotter than ever—with people literally lining up to get their hands on his shoes. And, in a league sponsored by adidas, the NBA used a song titled “Jumpman” to introduce the 2016 All-Star starters. Crazy.
So, how has the brand remained relevant for this long?
I decided it would be fun to survey a few friends about the brand and here’s what they said:
George Kiel, Editor in Chief, Nice Kicks
Nike has done a great job enlisting some of the best young talent in the NBA – year after year – to resonate with the younger audience. Today, guys like Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul connect with the new generation, and consumers are able to bond with Jordan Brand through them. This is undoubtedly important, as most of the youth have never seen Jordan play. I also think Jordan Brand has done a great job of storytelling with their classic product and also with new colorways.
Elizabeth McGarry, Co-Founder & Creative Director, MCGARRY&sons
It’s compelling to see an old school brand like Jordan stay relevant with today’s kids, considering they haven’t had the great pleasure of growing up watching MJ become a legend like we did. Jordan Brand has done a superb job staying at the forefront of the basketball game by signing the next generation of basketball heroes and relevant in streetwear by keeping their sneakers on the feet of some of the most influential artists in music. Those moves alone haven’t led to the same level of cult classic status for other brands, so what is that je ne sais quoi of the Jordan Brand? Perhaps because they have held the brand so close, so tight, they’ve kept the status high despite a rise and fall in the trends, they’ve brought talent in on the design and marketing side who are from the culture that they want to remain core to. It’s all of those things coming together that make the secret sauce.
Ty Stover, Assistant Product Marketing Manager, EA Sports
It’s really a perfect balance of old and new, lifestyle and performance. What Jordan Brand does really well is utilize scarcity and limited edition releases to maintain peak interest. This concept is what keeps people waiting hours outside in the cold just for the chance to make a purchase. While Jordan as a brand leverages the NBA talents of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and others to tell their performance story, the true attraction seems to be the iconic Jumpman logo and the legend of MJ himself. Crazy thing is Michael Jordan played his last game of professional basketball nearly 23 years ago, meaning a lot of the people wearing his shoes never even saw him play.
Michael Rapaport, Actor/Podcast Host/Director/Comedian
I think JORDAN has done a great job of keeping up with the times and culture changes and the Brand is as iconic as ever. In my opinion it’s untouchable and every other brand is fuming it out for second place. JORDAN is the top of the mountain still!!!!!!
Brady Sadler is the EVP of Growth & Innovation at GYK Antler and the co-founder of 1BAND 1BRAND. Connect with him on Twitter, Instagram and Beme.