What Nike Can Learn From Pharma Companies


By Sven Larsen (@svenplarsen)

Wondering if you read that headline correctly?

Do we really think that Nike, one of the world’s great marketers can learn something from sleepy old Pharma? Absolutely!

You see Nike released the Fuelband this week, the latest iteration of their Nike+ technology. The Fuelband allows users to track activity levels, calories consumed, etc. and integrates with an online site that helps users manage their performance data. It’s not the first device of it’s type on the market. In fact we’ve written about the FitBit and Jawbone’s Up device on P & P before. But a device like this released by a company with Nike’s distribution and marketing reach could be a gamechanger.

So why are they marketing it just to athletes? The tagline for the initial launch campaign is “Life is a sport”.

And that may very well be. But what about all the health and wellness benefits a device like this could provide to the vast segment of the population that doesn’t view themselves as recreational athletes. People who may never run a 5K in their life but could be highly interested in tracking their activity levels due to healthcare concerns. Not to mention the quantified health movement and many of the other health and wellness sub-cultures that every Pharma marketer is acutely aware of. Why is Nike giving them the cold shoulder.

For the same reason that Pharma marketing often doesn’t realize it’s full potential. Nike is looking at the device through a sports bias, thinking about how this can help runners improve their fitness regimens instead of taking in the bigger picture. In their own way they’re just as siloed (and just as proud) as any big Pharma company.

What would it have taken for a member of the Fuelband marketing team to realize that there was a healthcare application for the device and to reach out to experts in the field? How hard would it have been for them to partner with a Pharma company that was leading the way in something like Type 2 Diabetes care (would you turn down a meeting with Nike?) to develop programs for weight control? I can think of at least three major Pharma companies with disease state resources andstrong ties to patient communities who could easily have tun a pilot program.

But I can also envision the objections in Beaverton. “We don’t know anything about that category”. “It would require a whole different salesforce”. “We might have to deal with the FDA”!

So instead, Nike will just ignore a whole sector of potential consumers and leave the market open for a smaller, more agile competitor to come in and potentially dominate the space. it seems like a wasted opportunity to us but it’s the kind of decision we make every day in the Pharma space.

Will someone in a major Pharma company also recognize this kind of opportunity and take the first steps towards positioning their company as “health and wellness experts” rather than drug manufacturers? Will you be the organization that teaches Nike some new tricks?




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3 Responses to What Nike Can Learn From Pharma Companies

  1. Tyler Durbin says:

    This is really interesting, Sven.

    While you’re headline caused me to click-through because I was sure it was a typo, I see where you’re coming from.

    BUT…I still think it is Pharma that can be learning from Nike. In fact, I think Nike is already trailblazing the next big marketing trend, niche communities. To me, it seem Nike knows their brand and is extremely adept at staying true to it.

    The Nike brand is about intense activity, passion, drive, etc. Does putting their products on a person with Type II diabetes keep true to their brand? Nike has found that they can maximize and specialize in very niche communities versus mass media appeal. Seems to be working well…

  2. Sven Patrick Larsen says:

    I agree with you that Nike does an excellent job of marketing to (and creating) niche communities. But I would probably argue the point that promoting general fitness and well being is incongruent with the Nike brand. Certainly using a slogan like “Life is a sport” seems inclusive rather than exclusive and Nike has often reached out with similar messages (“There’s an athlete in all of us.”, “Just do it.”). While there’s no doubt we can all learn marketing lessons from the guys in Beaverton, I do think they need to think a little outside the box when it comes to this product. In the world of digital, tools often become successful when used for purposes they were not originally designed for (e.g. twitter). I think the Fuelband has the potential to be another one of those cases.

  3. Tyler Durbin says:

    Ok…I’m seeing eye to eye with you now. 🙂

    I purchased and have been wearing the Fuelband since it arrived. I’ve already found out some really interesting things about my activity levels.

    My first thought though was that I would love to get this for my entire family. My mom who is constantly looking for more ways to engage in her health and fitness, my grandparents who go on daily walks for heart health, by cousin who is an avid golfer…and the list goes on.

    My point…I can see how there are much broader applications for the Fuelband.

    Well done, sir.