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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Apple and Nike's Happy Shoes

For some reason, the world's attention never seems to focus on the really important stuff. A little while back, for example, the Los Angeles Times carried an article in which a particular breed of lab mouse was shown to possess a gene that literally destroyed cancer cells. Apparently, these mice treated cancer just like any other kind of infection, surrounding the foreign intruder, killing it and disposing of it. All without any side effects whatsoever.

To make things more impressive, the gene could be transplanted into other mice with the very same (and permanent result). The implications of this discovery are immense. What research scientists have stumbled upon may, quite soon, prove to be the magic bullet sought by humans to kill off cancer with no toxic side effects.

That's incredible news, I grant you. Which is why the Los Angeles Times managed to bury it, ranking its importance somewhat below that of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's new baby and whether Jennifer Aniston's gig with Vince Vaughn is for real.

Celebrity marriages, it turns out, are what makes big news these days, which is why the folks at Apple and Nike have announced their betrothal with a little gizmo that I like to call the Happy Shoe. You link your running shoes to an iPod, and you get music, time data, running data and from what I hear, even a synthesized vocal running coach egging you along as you jog.

Truly another example of digital technology at its most useless, but that's another story. My main reason for bringing all this up is that a lot of media pundits are going to call this a "marriage of two strong brands," which is what this story really is:

Just another Hollywood marriage. And not of two strong brands. It's one really strong brand and one really not strong brand.

For years, I've been informing audiences that while it is a high-awareness brand, Nike is not a truly strong brand. Despite a fashion/celebrity-endorsement agenda, fueled by multi-million dollars' worth of media, you still can't find anyone out there who can tell you why Nike is the only shoe for them. Since branding is all about being "the only solution," this means Nike is typical of so many brands: high awareness, with no message.

This doesn't mean the folks at Nike are dopes. Far from it. Because the first thing that brand-vacant companies do to gain traction in the marketplace is rub up against people, places and things that DO have real brand resonance, or at the very least, some sort of loyalty in the market. Nike tends to buy as many celebrities as it can. In this case, it's hoping that Apple's success will rub off on its shoes.

Think of it this way: who was Tom Arnold before he married Roseanne? Just another guy. Now Tom Arnold has a career! Who was Hillary Clinton before she married Bill? Now she's a senator from New York! Whether you believe in these brands or not isn't the point. The point is just like your mother told you: if you're going to get married, marry up. Nike is smart enough to realize that. You'll notice that they didn't do this deal with Dell or Microsoft. They chose Apple.

Remember Apple? The company whose machines are "too expensive?" The company whose machines "don't have enough software?" The company that "only has 5% market share?" Why would Nike choose to marry Apple? Here's why:

Because neither Dell, nor Microsoft, nor Nike are true, real brands. And because Apple is. And that's the reason why Nike's Happy Shoes have hooked up with Apple. It's the brand that refuses to die. The brand whose users KNOW why it's the only solution for them. Just try to persuade a Mac user to convert to PC and see for yourself.

As the world becomes more cluttered with pseudo-brands like Nike, Microsoft and the like, true brands like Apple only grow stronger. As in Nike's case, all Apple had to do is lead the way.

And watch as Nike came running.

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