Pilot Fish companies are often high value added sub-contractors providing their shark companies with vital products. But services too are „hard currency“ in Pilot Fish Strategy. Without a creative push from Portland ad-agency Wieden+Kennedy(W+K), Nike wouldn’t be dominating global athletic gear market or it would have taken them longer to do so.
University of Oregon track and field athlete Paul Knight and his coach Bill Bowerman founded Nike (then Blue Ribbon Sports) already back on 1964 trading Japanese Onitsuka Tiger running shoes to fellow athletes. The main marketing was done by just talking to athletes and these passing the word forward. This approach was named „word of foot“ by Phil Knight who dispised huge advertising campaigns and branding. Nevertheless they started to make their own shoes and founded their own brand Nike on 1971. The company was renamed Nike in 1978.
This is were the star of our story steps in. It was in 1982 when also in Portland a corporate PR-guy Dan Wieden and ad-guy David Kennedy established their own small ad-agency Wieden+Kennedy. Their only client at the time was Nike to whom they needed to provide marketing and advertising solutions that would take the company, alreade publicly traded and enjoying more than 50% domestic market share, to new frontiers. The task was tricky because of Phil Knight’s hate towards traditional advertising. That forced W+K to test the limits of creativity. With their unique expertise they build the brand of Nike. The Pilot Fish relationship between W+K has last for decades W+K being the main ad-agency for Nike to date. A great example of their simplistic yet extremely effective style is the legendary slogan „Just Do It!“ that W+K created for Nike’s 1988 ad-campaign. Just recently W+K and Nike surprised the audience again featuring Tiger Woods after his sex scandal in one of their ads. Although the ad has been described as the worst ad ever by some, only few ads throughout advertising history have created so much discussion about ethics, values and remorse. While the rest of the sponsors backed away from Tiger, Nike and W+K gave the whole situation a new creative angle.
W+K has grown global together with Nike and serves today many of the greatest brands in the World. Their client list includes Coca-Cola, ESPN, Miller, Honda and Procter & Gamble. Still the most work and the most recognised work (Cannes and Emmy awards) has emerged from the partnership with Nike. Nike founders had the business spirit and they understood their clients but they lacked marketing creativity and strong brand. W+K gave that to Nike in a way that has made Nike one of the most valuable and special brands in the World.