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Avinash Pant

Marketing Head | 20 Dec 2013

Nike as a brand does associate with several sports stars, but it’s only to build aspiration and by associating with them, the brand becomes known for excellence common among these players. We believe in innovation and inspiration, both are key virtues shared by Nike and sporting excellence.

The large population of youth in the country has led to a proliferation of youth brands. Sportswear brands such as Nike are realising the potential that lies in India and are constantly reinventing themselves to cater to this large and hard-to-please demographic. Despite enormous competition from other players in the athletic footwear market, Nike has been at the forefront of this race. At the helm of all marketing activities at Nike India, is its Marketing Head, Avinash Pant.

On conversation with Ankur Gaurav, Pant shares how Nike has remained relevant and in tune with its target group? Why the brand aligns itself so strongly with cricket, and more...

Q. Of late, Nike has been in the news for expanding aggressively in the Indian market. While the association with the BCCI and cricket seems to be an age-old one, what else is the brand doing to expand in the Indian market?

Cricket is and will always be the core of our sport building exercises. We all love cricket and at some point of our lives have been associated with it. But through the sport building exercises, Nike is not just working on cricket but also encouraging youngsters to take sports more seriously.

For football, Nike India is closely working with the under-16 youth. Nike India’s annual MUPC tournament that is held under the aegis of the All India Football Federation has become a strong platform in India to unearth young football talent at the grassroot level. Cricket in India is known to have grown as Gully Cricket (Street Cricket). More than 500 Gully Cricket teams participated in a tournament to ultimately play against the members of Indian Cricket Team. And when we are talking about grassroots, ‘running’ lies at the root of any sport and Nike embodies this spirit. Nike Outrun was the biggest event of the season, where anyone and everyone with a college ID was permitted to be a part of Nike Outrun 4K 2013. We chose that stage to launch the three lightest shoes ever made by Nike.

Q. The strategy clearly revolves around building a sport. But any encouragement to sport is beneficial for other competitive brands as well. How does Nike ensure it ‘gains’ from building the sport?

Most of our activities target the youth when they are in their teens. It helps the brand consolidate its image as a youth-specific brand. The TG for Nike starts from the age of 15 years till late twenties. It creates a definitive edge between Nike and other brands. Above all, building the sport leads to expanding the sportswear market of which Nike already enjoys a healthy share.

Q. Nike has been associated with a lot of celebrity sports stars. How well do you think our youth connects with these brand ambassadors?

Nike as a brand does associate with several sports stars, but it’s only to build aspiration and by associating with them, the brand becomes known for excellence common among these players. We believe in innovation and inspiration, both are key virtues shared by Nike and sporting excellence.

Q. How does innovation of products create an impact on the youth? Is the TG conscious about quality?

Obviously they are, and it comes mostly from athletes in India. They want to try out the best in order to bring out their own best. Nike’s latest Hypervenum Soccer Boots and Barefoot are already a part of every soccer player’s kit. The core value of the brand to innovate and serve the sport keeps it on its toes to match the constantly changing preferences of youth. Nike constantly works on helping the player perform better. All of this is not possible without innovation.

Q. A large number of Nike’s audience knows it more as a lifestyle brand than a sports brand. Comment.

For a brand, it is a compliment if it gets engraved in the lifestyle of its consumers. We serve the complete lifecycle of the athlete. The child first wants gears while training and playing and also to express himself, for example – I want to express I am a footballer, I would go buy a Manchester United jersey. The jersey, which still remains as a part of the sporting gear, finds a place in his life outside the sport as well. For any brand, it is a matter of pride and Nike does not mind being termed a lifestyle brand if people remember it as the best sports wear brand too.

Q. Which are the best media channels to connect with the youth?

Social media, both on a global level and in India too. “Be where the youth is” – this is a simple formula which made us treat Facebook and social media seriously and it’s amazing, you can see the results within seconds. Within days you have a huge range of data and fans helping you understand your fans better. Nike’s cricket page is the ‘biggest’ cricket page in India, while the football page has 1.5 million fans on it who regularly engage with us.

Q. Nike and the Indian Cricket Team have been associated for long, but what were the highs of this relationship in 2013? Did back to back allegations of match fixing deter your commitment towards Indian cricket?

The latest association was Nike becoming the official apparel manufacturer for the team. We look at the positives in sport. India loved cricket and still loves cricket. We are committed to the Indian Cricket Team and eventually Indian cricket. Such allegations do not bother us.

Q. What is the greatest difference between youth in India and youth in the western world?

Surprisingly, they are similar on human and emotional levels. All have expectations and react enthusiastically to situations. They are different if you notice the nuances of their behaviour. In the US, the youth is more into the soccer culture, hence their whole lifestyle is built around that. In India, with the popularity of IPL, youth leans more towards cricket.

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