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Brand Love & Basketball

I’m not an avid sports fan, despite living smack dab in the middle of Tobacco Road. I am a casual observer at best, lured by the opportunity for spectacle rather than the sport itself or the ongoing rivalry between the collegiate blues. But last Wednesday when UNC took on Duke at Cameron Indoor, I gave in and settled down to watch one of the biggest battles of the season. Much to my surprise, I was immediately intrigued when a wardrobe malfunction (read: spectacle!) threatened to destabilize Nike’s high-profile brand.

As a qualitative consultant, I devote a large portion of thinking to how consumers relate to, adopt, and ultimately, fall in love with a brand. So what’s going on when consumers fall hard for a brand? Is it trust? Is it reliability? Is it a compelling story? And on the other hand, what can cause consumers to just as swiftly fall out of love with a brand? Ultimately, would Nike be damaged from star athlete Zion Williamson’s ripped up trainer and resulting knee sprain?

According to Susan Fournier, brand relationship expert, it seems the relationship between humans and anthropomorphic brands still contains many unknowns, but trust remains a large part of the equation. Lucky for Nike, the brand’s longstanding commitment to innovation and quality seems to have overshadowed any long-term damage.  Former Nike developer, Tiffany Beers, says as much on the incident in a brief interview with the fashion and culture trend website Highsnobiety, “…If it was an inherent issue, you probably wouldn’t just see it on him. You would probably see it in other areas.”

So, yes, Nike’s stock dipped the day after the incident and Puma (and others) got in a few good jabs in the Twitter-sphere, but ultimately, Nike is still in good standing with fans. Perhaps we can chalk it up to a lovers’ spat or misunderstanding? Nike has promised to do better next time, after all.

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