What Does Nike Really Stand For?

Image by albyantoniazzi on Flickr.com, (cc) some rights reserved. 

Image by albyantoniazzi on Flickr.com, (cc) some rights reserved. 

Ask anyone who works in marketing what Nike stands for and you're likely to hear the same three words: "authentic athletic performance."

That's been the company's mantra since the late 1980s and it's been parroted relentlessly in business schools and at branding conferences ever since. 

But as any marketing expert will also eagerly tell you, brands only exist in consumers' minds—and that's where Nike has some serious work to do. 

This week, Oscar Pistorius joined a long list of prominent Nike athletes (including Lance Armstrong and Alex Rodriquez) who are accused of using, or have been exposed for using, steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). 

So "win at all costs" and "cheat to win" are among the the first things that come to my mind when I think of Nike now. And I don't think I'm alone. 

Yet curiously, you'll find no mention of steroids on Nike's corporate responsibility website. And if you search "performance-enhancing drugs" there, you'll only find this cautiously worded statement: "Nike does not condone the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs in any manner."

Nike has more than a "corporate responsibility" to start speaking up about PEDs. It has an ethical responsibility to do so, given the millions of young athletes that embrace its products and brand. 

Standing up, creatively and compellingly, against PEDs would genuinely demonstrate Nike's commitment to authentic athletic performance. It would also give me a real reason to believe in its brand again. 

NIKE DROPS PISTORIUS (2/21/13): Nike backed Lance Armstrong until the bitter end. Not so with Oscar Pistorius; the company confirms that it has suspended the athlete's endorsement contract. Take the next step, Nike: Put your muscle behind a "Just Don't Do It" campaign against steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.