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BRANDING REBELLION

How companies like Nike and Apple stay cool for decades

A photo of the original red and black Air Jordan sneaker
Reuters/Brendan McDermid
The 1984 Air Jordan sneaker is a foundational part of Nike’s rebel image.
  • Sarah Todd
By Sarah Todd

Senior reporter, Quartz and Quartz at Work

When Nike created the Air Jordan after signing then-rookie Chicago Bulls player Michael Jordan in 1984, it designed the shoe in red and black—a striking departure from the all-white sneakers that basketball players wore at the time.

The National Basketball League banned the shoe for failing to meet its standards, but Nike wasn’t cowed. The company had Jordan keep wearing Jordans, and paid a $5,000 fine every time he did. The decision imbued the sneakers with an aura of confident defiance that consumers found irresistible—Jordans were suddenly, inarguably, fantastically cool.

More than three decades later, Jordans are still cool. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, revenue for the Jordan brand increased 15% from the previous year, to $3.6 billion. And Nike has a market capitalization of $200 billion. It’s one of few companies that has managed to buck the truism that “it’s rare for a product…to be both cool and ubiquitous,” as Lalin Anik, an assistant professor of business administration at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, writes in her case study “A General Theory of Coolness.”

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