Nike Culture

By Sheehan, Kim Bartel | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Nike Culture


Sheehan, Kim Bartel, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


Nike Culture. Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1999. 194 pp. $74.50 hbk. $26.95 pbk.

An apocryphal story relates that when Phil Knight, CEO of Nike, met Dan Wieden, president of Nike's future ad agency Wieden and Kennedy, Knight introduced himself by saying"I'm Phil Knight and I hate advertising." In their new book Nike Culture, Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson explore the commercial messages of this company run by a man who hates advertising, and illustrate how Nike's advertising has fundamentally influenced the way our culture views sport and the athletes involved in sport.

Goldman and Papson present their study using the concept of sign value production: examining how advertisers use images that possess social and cultural value (the sign value) to boost the value of brands. The authors discuss how Nike ads select areas of popular culture and then remove the meaning from the context in order to recontextualize the meanings in the ads. In this discussion, they provide a framework for decoding Nike's ads to examine which sign values are created.

The authors then examine how Nike appropriated cultural images to develop the sign values. Several chapters assess how Nike used different athletes to create both the value of authenticity for their brand and the tone of irreverence in Nike's advertising (both to conventional behaviors and to advertising). Also included is an assessment of how Nike ads portray race and gender.

The authors do an excellent job of contrasting Nike advertising to their competitors' ads (specifically Reebok) and to ads from other products using Nike-contracted spokespeople (such as Gatorade). These comparisons strongly illustrate two key points of the book: that Nike advertising uniquely promoted the power of sport as a contributor to one's sense of individuality, and that much of Nike's sign value comes from pushing boundaries of convention in both advertising and society.

Goldman and Papson, both professors of sociology, have explored this area before in their book Sign Wars, and clearly explicate their method throughout the text.

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