Marketing & Branding

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?

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