Still doing it: Nike's a hit with Gen Z

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Among the many plaudits won by Nike marketers over the years, establishing the brand first as an aspirational athletic retailer and then an icon of streetwear is arguably the most impressive. In fact, that it has remained relevant at all is a feat in itself: not many brands that got their start in the 1960s are still popular, and even fewer remain at the forefront of fashion and culture.

But, somehow, Nike has managed it, resonating even with the youngest consumer cohorts. Indeed, Nike has consistently been US teenagers’ favorite brand over the past 12 years, per a biannual Piper Sandler survey.

In the footwear category specifically, Nike still comes up trumps year-over-year; the most recent poll, conducted for fall 2023, saw 61% of Gen Z respondents favoring Nike as their top pick for shoes, furthering the Shoe Dog’s impressive lead. The second most favored brand? Converse, which is owned by… Nike, having seen its revenue soar since being acquired in 2003 for $305 million.

Ticking boxes

But how has the some 60-year-old sneaker brand managed to maintain its ‘cool factor’— particularly within a demographic with a notoriously short attention span for trends?In unifying a spectrum of different divisions under one swoosh-embellished umbrella, Nike manages to at once appeal to Gen Z’s loyalty towards trusted brands and their championing of individualism and personalization (often nicely tying into Nike’s sporty ethos). Coupled with publicizing its sustainability targets and aligning the brand with social activism — exemplified by its 2018 ad campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick — Nike has made a name for itself with shoppers who weren’t even alive to see the brand’s 20th-century boom.

The company’s marketing strategy is also unique in its consumer-oriented approach. Although Nike preserves its nostalgic, instantly recognizable look on social media, the brand spans over 300 pages across more than 7 channels, including Instagram, which lists accounts such as @nike (306m followers), @nikesportswear (7.9m), @nikewomen (7m), and @nikerunning (5.7m).

Nike’s tailored social media reflects the cornerstone of its longevity: intentionally building a brand to be as popular in 60 years as it is today by appealing to an incredibly broad customer base. Backed up by decade upon decade of scoring points with consumers, it still rings true that, for Nike, there is no finish line.

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