Nike Tries to Enter Niche Sports

Written by New York Times | Tanzina Vega | Updated: Jun 21 2011, 08:09am hrs
Move over, Michael Jordan: here comes P-Rod. In an attempt to leave no sport unmarketed, Nike, the sports apparel manufacturer, is beginning the next phase of its current Just Do It campaign with a focus on action sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing.

The new campaign, called The Chosen, is Nikes largest effort at moving into action sports, and features athletes like the skateboarder Paul Rodriguez (or P-Rod), the surfer Laura Enever and the snowboarder Danny Kass. When we looked at action sports, we saw a unique consumer segment that was underserved in terms of product innovation, Mark G. Parker, Nikes chief executive and president, said at a shareholder meeting.

Action sports are a $390 million business for Nike, and executives hope that figure doubles over the next five years. Nikes biggest competitors in the youth-oriented action sports arena include brands like Quiksilver, ONeill, Volcom and Billabong.

Big brands that want to enter the action sports market have to contend with the somewhat insular culture of certain sports and with the athletes loyalty to smaller, edgier brands. For the last few years, Nike has been on a steady mission to penetrate the market by creating sub-brands like Nike 6.0 and buying smaller brands like Hurley.

And they seem to be getting it right.

They did their homework, said Bernie Baker, the former Hawaii editor at Surfer Magazine and the contest director for the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, who cited Nikes relentless promotion of youth events as one of the driving factors in the brands success. When that logo is on the deck of a surfboard, from 200 yards away its the same as a Quiksilver logo. You recognize that design. Nike began teasing the campaign in early May with a 30-second version of the commercial online. Viewers who watched the short could respond to a Facebook page for the campaign debut when a three-minute and 30-second version of the commercial will be shown followed by a 23-minute behind-the-scenes film. The spot, which was created by the agency 72andSunny and directed by Lance Acord, shows the athletes performing at night in locations like Whistler, British Columbia; Bali, Indonesia; and New York City.

Facebook is the premier partner and platform to use globally that has the biggest global reach, said Davide Grasso, the vice president for global brand marketing at Nike.

Mr. Acord, who has worked with Nike for the last 15 years, described the filming as pretty epic and complex when the crew had to deal with shooting during a blizzard in Whistler, or was forced to improvise when a shipment of cables was not delivered in Bali.

The video takes its creative cues from the idea of action sports as a music concert with the athletes lit by flood lights as they perform their sport at night.

Mr. Acord said he took a theatrical approach to the lighting and incorporated elements from his experience producing music videos. For Mr. Rodriguez, the commercial was the largest production he had ever been part of. It definitely was a little challenging, he said of having to perform tricks like the varial heelflip and the switch hardflip while under a puffing smoke machine and bright lights.

The campaign features a contest in which athletes can submit videos showing themselves in action. The videos will run on the campaigns Facebook page, and visitors to the page will be able to vote on which video they like best. Some of the athletes, including Mr. Rodriguez, will help judge the entries. In addition to special features, Mr. Rodriguez said he would look for the quality of the skills of course, the best maneuvers, creativity with the editing and the music that they choose.

Winners of the contest will be chosen at the U.S. Open of Surfing, which is held in Huntington Beach, Calif., and completely owned and sponsored by Nike. Nike will also release a 3-D version of the commercial that will be shown on the Fourth of July weekend in movie theaters before films like Transformers 4.

According to Kantar Media, Nike spent $108 million in advertising in 2009 and $116 million in 2010.