How Nike Conquered Skateboard Culture

It took a while for skateboarding to be taken seriously as a
sport, let alone one in need of its own gear. Before genuine skate
shoes like Vans cropped up, boarders had to wear basketball shoes
or whatever else was available. As the skateboarding phenomenon
grew, so did its credibility and market potential. So when ‘a
four-letter word’ like Nike tried to join in the profits by
offering its own line of skateboarding shoe, the conformity-balking
skater community declined — repeatedly. But as Maria Hampton
reports in
Adbusters, a decade-long effort that
rewrote the marketing playbook finally won Nike access to the
prized demographic.

At first, though, Nike’s reliable arsenal of award-winning ad
campaigns failed. The sneaker giant did its homework, scrapping
traditional focus groups in favor of skateboarding ethnographies
written by anthropology graduate students. Nike homed in on
‘skate’s secret language of images and icons,’ got graffiti artists
and skaters in on the design, and discovered that skateboarders had
co-opted the company’s 1985 basketball shoe, the Dunk. Nike then
reissued the Dunk in limited runs exclusively in skate shops and
continued to reissue the shoe in varying color schemes and

Eventually, Dunks became ‘the fastest selling shoes in the US.’
The timing couldn’t have been better. Underground skate brands were
enjoying mainstream success, writes Hampton, and ‘suddenly the
difference between old skate and Nike wasn’t night and day
anymore.’ It was no longer necessary to venture to the suburban
fringe and risk halfpipe injury to join the culture, leaving
Hampton to wonder whether ‘companies like Nike only accelerate the
death of the counterculture that so attracted them. ‘ — Rachel

How Nike Conquered Skateboard Culture

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