In 1967, the company that would become the world famous shoe brand, Nike, needed an identity for its new, state-of-the-art running shoe. Co-founders Phil Knight
and Bill Bowerman
settled on “Aztec,” according to Knight’s autobiography. But industry giant Adidas
had a track spike called “Azteca Gold” and was allegedly threatening to sue.
Chewing over their choices, the Oregon entrepreneurs fired the first volley of a decades-long rivalry with the German shoemaker. Knight explained how their displeasure with Adidas
led to the eventual selection. “Who was that guy who kicked the (crap) out of the Aztecs?” Bowerman asked Knight. “Cortez,” he responded. “Okay,” Bowerman said, “let’s call it the Cortez.
In the 50 years since that fateful (if impolitic) branding decision, Nike
became both commercial behemoth and cultural phenomenon, catering to the feet of athletes and couch potatoes alike.
But by last year, the tide of the long battle had turned. Adidas was once again ascendant via two sneakers originally designed in the 1960s: the Stan Smith and the Superstar. They outsold every other kick in America and sent Adidas’s share of the US footwear market skyward by 83 per cent. Oregon-based Nike was losing ground for the first time in decades. Future orders fell 4 per cent in three months ended February, from both retail partners and the company’s own stores.
really needed a winner. In September of last year, Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker
started laying the groundwork. He told analysts and investors that, like Adidas, Nike
would look to past successes to win today’s market. The Cortez, he announced, would be making a comeback.
The reboot was big, even by Nike
standards. In May, the company enlisted supermodel Bella Hadid
for an elaborate photo shoot. Sneakerhead blogs and fashion magazines ran the photos as a story unto themselves. Meanwhile, the company whipped its designers and factories up to speed, cranking out a steady stream of special Cortez
editions to complement the classic iteration. Nike
was in for a rude awakening. Despite all the effort, customers just didn’t seem to care.