“Nike didn’t discover the power of advertising, Nike discovered the power of their own voice.”

Dan Wieden

It was a fateful day when someone at Nike HQ leaned over to another employee and, rather than discussing where to grab lunch or the office gossip, said, “Hey, what if we weren’t actually in the shoe business?” An odd sentiment to utter, considering the corridors were undoubtedly littered with sneaker prototypes. But this epiphany didn’t suggest Nike abandon shoes—rather, they imagined something bolder. They weren’t just peddling footwear—they were peddling dreams.

Imagine the scene: a meeting room, littered with empty coffee cups, whiteboard markers running dry, and someone daringly poses, “What if our real product isn’t the shoe, but the story it tells?” Heads turn, eyebrows furrow. Another person chimes in, “What if… if you have a body, you’re an athlete?” A buzz, a stir, the scent of revolution—or maybe that’s just the new shoe leather.

Now, it’s not as if Nike stumbled upon the Rosetta Stone of advertising. No, their Eureka moment was way more philosophical. It was as if Socrates himself whispered, “Know thyself” while wearing some sleek Air Maxes. Because what Nike understood was not the simple power of a billboard or an ad slot during prime time. What they unearthed, my friends, was the profound might of their own voice echoing in our collective psyche.

You see, while every other brand shouted their offers from rooftops, Nike chose to narrate. They began to whisper tales of triumphs, failures, and undying spirits into our ears. They became the Shakespeare of sportswear, only with fewer tragedies and more motivational monologues. These stories, they weren’t just stories—they were allegories of our dreams and desires.

Picture this: a young child tying their Nike shoelaces, gazing into the horizon, believing that they too could ‘Just Do It.’ Now, the ‘it’ varies for each one. Maybe it’s scoring the winning goal, or perhaps, simply getting up from the couch to fetch the remote—small victories! And, when they’d take that leap, fueled by ambition, guess whose emblem was kissing the ground beneath? Nike’s.

Now, let’s face it, anyone can shout out about their wares. I once saw a gentleman on the streets, passionately advertising his ‘world’s best hotdogs.’ But, if I may be so bold, the secret sauce (pun intended) wasn’t in the shouting. It’s in the believing. Nike didn’t just hang their shoes on racks—they etched them into our hearts.

It’s fascinating to think about the metamorphosis of a mere shoe company. From creating shoes to crafting beliefs, the journey is nothing short of a Hollywood blockbuster. At some point, Nike traded in their shoe blueprints for a dreamcatcher. The catch? They were snaring our aspirations, making us believe that with the right pair of shoes, we could conquer worlds. Or, at the very least, manage to jog around the block without panting like a Pomeranian in summer.

The biggest triumph? Nike didn’t just create a customer base—they crafted a global congregation of believers, or ‘Sneaker Disciples,’ if you will. Their church? Every basketball court, jogging track, and gym around the world. Their hymn? The soft swish of shoelaces, the thud of a foot hitting the ground, and the pulse of a beating heart chanting, “I can do it.”

In essence, while other brands were figuring out how to fit their messages within a 30-second slot, Nike was weaving its legacy into the fabric of our dreams. They didn’t sell shoes—they traded in optimism, joy, and belief. So the next time you slip on those Nikes, remember, you’re not just wearing a shoe—you’re strapping on a story.

Stephen Boudreau serves as VP of Brand and Community at Virtuous Software. For over two decades, he has helped nonprofits leverage the digital space to grow their impact. To that end, Stephen co-founded RaiseDonors, a platform that provides nonprofits with technology and experiences that remove barriers to successful online fundraising. He is an avid (but aging) soccer player, audiobook enthusiast, and the heavily-disputed UNO champion of his household.

Copyright ©2023 Stephen Boudreau.