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A Lesson in Phenomenal Personal Branding: Michael Jordan

My post begins with a six-word phrase: Michael Jordan on the Washington Wizards. Most Bulls fans did not appreciate this, and some refuse to acknowledge that it even happened. Not me – I loved it. Why? It’s simple…more Jordan! More fadeaways, more buzzer beaters, more (albeit lower altitude) dunks, and a chance to see a 40 year old dominate players half his age. 40 points at 40 years old? Are you kidding me?! That’s incredible! There’s been nothing like it on a basketball court before.

Some pointed out that his efforts may have been a bit of failure since his team didn’t make the playoffs either of his years in Washington. I choose to look at it as a victory lap. It was one last chance to show appreciation to the greatest of all time. If you get the opportunity, look up the YouTube video of his last game – he received multiple standing ovations and the crowd chanted “We want Jordan!” – all in Philadelphia! Amazing stuff. By that point, Michael Jordan’s status had risen above that of any typical sports superstar. Whether he was loved by his fans or hated by his rivals, he was revered by all. He is truly a global icon.

Red and Black Air Jordans

Red and Black Air Jordans (Copyright Nike, All Rights Reserved)

Did Jordan get to be a worldwide superstar because of his basketball skills alone? Of course not! Nike and Air Jordans had as much to do with it as anything. In fact, it’s probably the penultimate example of innovative marketing. Before Air Jordans, there were no signature shoes – just sponsorships. Before Air Jordans, NBA shoes had to be one color. Can you imagine that today? MJ was even fined $5,000 for every game he wore his original black and red Air Jordans (which Nike happily paid).

Then, in 1987, Nike created the famous “Jumpman” logo…and the rest is history. The shoes were already well-received, but after that they just exploded in popularity. First, the Jumpman logo was just on the shoes. Then it popped up on T-shirts, pants, socks, and everything you could imagine. Nike went from the gutsy startup company (that barely even convinced Jordan to sign with them, mind you) to a behemoth that posts 19 billion dollar yearly profits today.

Just when many thought that the Air Jordan line would end with Jordan’s final retirement, the Jordan line became its own brand! In addition to producing shoes for high school and college teams, they even create signature shoes for current NBA players, ushering in a whole new generation of Jordan fans. Just this past October, 2KSports released the video game NBA 2K11 with Michael Jordan on the cover. One of the main features in the game is collecting 40 Air Jordans that can be used on your virtual players (I’m up to 24 of 40!). It is one of the most successful and widely-discussed sports video games of all time. His star does not seem to be fading anytime soon!

If you look closely, you can see that Jumpman logo pretty much everywhere you go… I have a brand-new pair of Air Jordans on right now! Do you think of Michael Jordan whenever you see his logo? Are there any other examples of personal branding of this caliber?

Image Credits


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  1. Laura Porretto

    Don’t forget the song… “Like Mike, If I could be like Mike”. Ah…the 90’s 🙂

  2. QLP Jill

    Who DOESN’T love Michael Jordan? Like you said – even if people couldn’t stand him, they still held respect for him. And I feel that respect still stands today! In the 90s, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing his face, his Air Jordans, or his commercials. My dad used to record every single Chicago Bulls game and he still collects merchandise that relates to Michael Jordan. Hell, one of my best friends has a brother named “Jordan” because HER father adored him so much! If that’s not a global icon, then I don’t know what is.

    I didn’t know about the NBA 2K11 in-game Air Jordans, but that’s awesome! You’re so right: his Jumpman logo is easily recognizable and still gets printed on merch (whether virtual or physical)…and people can’t get enough of it. I’m not sure that any personal brand comes close to Michael Jordan’s, especially not in the world of sports! 🙂

    • Bret Bonnet

      Your dad sounds like a pretty cool guy. Does he still have the games on VHS?

      I remember Sports Channel used to replay old Chicago Bulls games ALL the time on TV (late at night).

      I used to fall asleep watching Jordon kick butt… even AFTER he had left the Chicago Bulls.

      • QLP Jill

        My dad is the coolest! 🙂 Yep, he still has the VHS tapes stashed away somewhere…I’m pretty sure we have more footage of the Bulls than we have of our own family vacations! J/K! On a side note, you KNOW that I’m not a sports person, and I adored Michael Jordan just like everyone else and his skills actually got me to sit through basketball games without complaining. THAT’S how awesome he was/is! 😉

  3. JJ "Suite G"

    I’m not a sports-guy by any means, so this was definitely an informative article for me. I had no idea that Jordan’s reputation helped build the Nike brand and that their growth and expansion as a company paralleled his own as an athlete. It goes without saying that this kind of mutually beneficial business partnership represents the best case scenario when it comes to branding: personal or otherwise.

    Sounds like Jordan and Nike were essentially basketball’s equivalent of DeNiro and Scorsese, respectively.

  4. YourMomGoesToCollege

    I like this post! Go Michael!

  5. QLP Kid

    I think Jordan is one of the best examples of personal branding =)

    -QLP Kid

    “It’s How The MidWest Was Won…”

  6. Andrew Sauer

    I cannot think of any other athlete that has had that kind of impact on branding like Jordan has. It’s unbelievable that he isn’t even playing anymore but is still one of the highest paid athletes, if not the highest paid after Tiger Woods’ little incident, in all of sports. The Jumpman logo has gone beyond basketball as well. Derek Jeter is now a representative of sorts for the logo in baseball. They make shoes, batting gloves, etc. for baseball players now. It will be interesting to see where the brand goes from here on out.

  7. Scooby DOO!

    DUDE, love him or HATE him, Jordan is one of the most successful marketing stories to come out of his generation. Tiger woods, had he not played the back nine so often, would have been his predecessor. I think its Wood’s catastrophic failure will close the door on single athlete marketing at that level forever; It’s just too risky.

    For marketers, it sad to think we’ll never see another “Jordan” but it then also challenges us to think outside the box, and be more organic. I expect to see me cross-branding and co-branding…this is evident by Clinton’s cameo in the Hang over II… I can’t wait for the screen-printed t-shirts with his face on them. The BIG question is, will Monica be selling Cigars?

    Alas, we marketers must study the success of “Jordan,” even if it’s on a basic level: We can at least learn that proper marketing and merchandising are two key ingredients for success. Like bread without yeast, a product absent of marketing and merchandising, will never rise.

    • Bret Bonnet

      Jordan wasn’t without a scandal or two of his own…

      I remember it came out that he was also cheating on his wife during his time in Chicago, he just didn’t deny it nor did he get assaulted with a golf club like Tiger did.

      Something you’d think Tiger would have learned from Jordan…. The only difference was Jordan’s level of play didn’t diminish like Tiger’s did once the storm had been weathered… One more reason why Jordan was such a great athlete.

  8. Tony Promo

    Both Phil Knight and Tinker Hatfield can be credited with Nike’s success. If it weren’t for Tinker, Phil wouldn’t be a billionaire, and it wasn’t because they made the “best” shoes (although arguably so), it was because they sold the most. A cross between the vision of Knight and the revolutionary designs of Tinker Hatfield got them out of a garage where Phil was making shoe soles with waffle irons (literally!), to where Nike is now, a secretive multi-building complex in Beaverton, OR. They didn’t fill a void, they created it, and then filled it in with dozens of pairs of shoes over two decades. I estimate in my life that I’ve owned around 150 pairs of Nikes, and 60-70 of those pairs being Jordans (note to 12 year old self from future, present self: DON’T WEAR THOSE!). And it wasn’t just because I grew up a Bulls fan. It’s because “Michael Jordan defies gravity by exerting his muscle power in the vertical plane, thus producing a low altitude Earth orbit”… I swear I didn’t google that, it’s from memory, and that commericial hasn’t aired for almost 20 years. Did I wind up buying a pair of Jordan IV’s when that commerical aired? Hell yes, SEVERAL. Was I the coolest kid in school? In my own mind: yes! I got my first job at age 13 because I begged my parents for a new pair after they said they wouldn’t buy them for me. Unfortunately this sneaker obsession has crossed over into adulthood, and so has Nike’s marketing power/genius.

    At it’s root, it’s a great American success story, but more pertinent to us, it is the single most successful advertising campaign in sports and clothing… maybe ever. When there is a multi-million dollar counterfeit industry selling fake Jordans, you know you’re doing something right. Love them or hate them for being a “big multinational corporation”, you have to respect their genius.

  9. Bret Bonnet

    I think Phil Jackson had something to do with the Michael Jordan brand… Just like the Chicago Bears would have amounted to nothing without Papa Bear (George Halas) Michael Jordan, and in turn… Kobe Bryant undoubtedly would NOT be the athletes they are today without a little direction from Phil.

    Don’t get me wrong, I despise Phil Jackson for leaving the Bulls, but the man is damn good at his job.

    PS. I actually got to see Jordan play as a Wizard, vs. Kobe Bryant mind you, it was one hell of a show!

  10. Anastasia

    Mate. This blog is amazing. How can I make it look this good ?

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