What the Ducks and Nike Tell Us

by Dave Nieuwstraten


In the late 90’s, Nike began collaborating with the Oregon Ducks football program. The goal was to help recruit the talent needed to take the program to the next level. Along with an investment in new facilities, the program pursued other attention-getting moves using the knowledge that Nike had built up in its marketing of shoes and apparel. In 2001, Oregon bought billboards in San Francisco, Los Angeles and most famously in NY Times Square where they put a giant “Joey Heisman” billboard across from Madison Square Garden. They bought air time in New York so the largest city in the country could watch them play. They famously launched a myriad of creative uniforms with each week bringing national news about what the Ducks were wearing. They got people talking…and the attention of the recruits they were after. A new energy grew around the program. The plan has worked as they built a personality around the Oregon Ducks and made it a highly desirable place for top talent to play. The “minor” school from Oregon is now one of the few annual football powerhouses. What lessons can we learn from this? A few actually. Many of you have great products, but you don’t do anything to help your company stand out from all the noise. Your ads feature some smiling people. Your ad copy uses fancy phrases and words like “innovative,” “quality,” or “solutions.” You put too much text in your materials and you rarely do anything besides traditional advertising tools. I bet you can think about ways you can differentiate your product, your marketing, your messaging and your customer experience. I bet you can come up with ways to have fun with your customers and be more interesting. I bet you can get people talking about you and what you do for them. Of course, there is a difference between differentiating yourself and being odd or cheesy. The latter can also get people talking, but not in a positive way. Many of you don’t need to go “over the top.” But almost any product and company can be made more compelling with more creative marketing. Like Apple, the sweet spot is a great product combined with great marketing and advertising. So we challenge you to think about ways you can differentiate your product, your marketing, your messaging and your customer experience. Perhaps it’s time to break through the noise and the easily tuned out “what everyone else is doing” marketing and advertising.

By the way, Oregon is still at it. This last weekend they wore pink as part of the long-growing trend for sports teams to bring awareness to efforts to fight breast cancer. But in classic Oregon style, they did it in a unique way. The were the first team to wear pink helmets. And not any old pink. This is a new fiery mad pink helmet paired with matching socks, gloves, cleats and all-black uniforms. The look was striking, and garnered first-page mentions on newspapers, discussion on drive time radio, and headlines on TV broadcasts. Instead of doing what has been done, Oregon took a bold new tack as they continue to build their brand. The helmets are being auctioned off to raise money to fight against women’s cancer. You can see the helmets at www.kayyow.com/ducks.

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