Nike wants women

Can Nike do it for women? ...

Can Nike do it for women?

The Beaverton, Ore.-based company is hoping to gain ground with females via an integrated marketing effort that includes TV and print ads, a Web site and a quarterly magazine, as well as a renovated retail environment directed at the target group.

Having launched in the U.S. last February, the TV and print ads spill into Canada, according to Randy Weyersberg, director of marketing at Nike’s Canadian headquarters in Thornhill, Ont. ‘Nike is at its best when it does integrated marketing,’ he says. ‘We recognize the power of having a simple and direct message aimed at a specific target group and leveraging all the market resources available.’

A new campaign will kick off in Canada this June, but Weyersberg won’t provide details. ‘The essence of our messaging isn’t changing,’ he says, adding that women represent 51% of the current population. ‘It’s one of the fastest growing consumer segments today.’

The brand’s obsession with women is long overdue, says retail expert Len Kubas, president of Toronto-based Kubas Consultants. ‘Women are an important factor in the purchasing process, especially when it comes to anything with a fashion orientation,’ he says. (Last June, Internet ad company DoubleClick Inc., Toronto, reported that women influence over 75% of all household purchases.)

Maureen Atkinson, a retail analyst with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group, adds that while Nike has targeted females in the past, the stronger emphasis will enable it to differentiate itself from others in sportswear.

‘Young men are where it’s at, especially in footwear,’ she says. ‘It’s the biggest category, but it’s also one that everyone is after.’

In fact, Nike chairman and CEO Phil Knight partially blamed a disappointing third quarter forecast on weakened footwear revenues. Recently, the company reported it earned $0.35 a share for the third quarter ended Feb. 28, versus its previously stated guidance of $0.50 to $0.55.

Despite the crowded category, ‘Nike isn’t going to target women at the expense of cutting back on marketing to men,’ says Atkinson. ‘The reality is that it can’t.’ Plus, adds Weyersberg, Nike will speak to women in their media of choice to avoid alienating guys. ‘Print is a great vehicle for women,’ he explains. ‘We have to be focused about how we reach them.’

Created by longtime Nike agency Wieden + Kennedy, the new 30- and 60-second TV spots, called ‘Everyday Athletes,’ feature a montage of women engaged in athletic pursuits, with voiceovers such as ‘I wear dresses’ and ‘I’ve never owned a ball.’ Meanwhile, four additional 15-second commercials focus on individual athletes. Print ads, which pop up in U.S. fitness magazines like Self and Shape, connote a similar vibe. ‘They talk about how fitness can give you confidence,’ says Josie Seguin, Canadian advertising manager.

Nike also hopes to reach women through its new magalogue, Goddess, and Web site, www.nikegoddess.com. While the glossy isn’t available in Canada yet – it’s distributed through NikeTown, Finish Line and Nordstrom in the U.S., as well as delivered to select subscribers of Sports Illustrated for Women, InStyle and Teen People – Seguin says the Canadian subsidiary is considering it.

The magazine has the same feel as www.nikegoddess.com, which profiles famous athletes and everyday women, as well as offers information on various sports. Product is available on the site, but Canadians are forced to deal with cross-border duty issues. ‘It’s not readily acceptable,’ admits Weyersberg. ‘It’s a matter of deciding when to move forward with it.’

Whether or not these new marketing vehicles are a worthy investment is a matter of debate. For his part, Kubas believes they will benefit the brand. ‘Anything Nike can do to reinforce its commitment to women as a special target group is going to do it well in the long run.’

Atkinson, on the other hand, questions whether Nike isn’t wasting money, since the new magazine and Web site need to stand out among numerous other fitness and online publications in order to grab and keep women’s attention. ‘I’m not sure if it’s a good use of funds because it’s probably a duplication of what’s happening in other places,’ she says. ‘If it’s more interesting and more relevant, then it may have a role.’

Nike Canada is also closely eyeing sales performances at the Chicago NikeTown, where the third floor is now completely dedicated to women’s apparel. Space for women’s product increased by 160% and the area now includes a coat check, lounge and diaper-changing facility.

Other NikeTowns, including Toronto, will adopt the concept if all goes well, but for now the in-store atmosphere reflects the heightened concentration on females through displays and window treatments, says Weyersberg.

‘Retail is a unique environment, where we can get more specific around product,’ he says. Unique, women-specific goods are also on the drawing board. For instance, the Nike Air Max Craze, a pair of slingback trainers recently made its debut this spring.

So far, the changes appear to be effective: in February, NikeTown stores recorded a 46% increase in the sale of women’s items.