Nike's Running App Made Free

By Andrew Hendricks

In retail branding, Nike is a juggernaut with few equals. From catchy television advertisements to effective product placements, and a diversified line of products no longer limited to just sneakers, Nike has shown exactly the sort of growth and longevity that every brand aspires to cultivate. Nike continues this trend recently with the re-released Nike Running app, formerly $1.99 on the app store, now available for free. Sporting rave reviews, streamlined functionality, and a download rate that would make a Silicon Valley startup weep, Nike has made a smart move by forgoing the revenue of their app to get Nike in the pockets of as many athletes and amateurs as possible.

According to their website: the Nike running app “tracks distance, pace, time and calories burned with GPS, giving you audio feedback as you run.” I have personally used the app, and it is now one of my favorite parts of long-distance running.

In years past I have used an assortment of different pedometers. Pre-smartphones, the novelty of them always wore off and it seemed easier just to estimate or calculate your run rather than dealing with some $20 electronic device in bulky cheap plastic that you were never quite sure was accurate. However, now that I always run with my smartphone in an arm-strap, having a device I know is a relatively accurate GPS constantly monitor my runs has truly changed the way I view my workout.

Every mile you run, a pleasant voice tells you how many miles you've gone, how long it has been, and what your average mile time is. For long-distance runners like myself, this is a super efficient, hands-free way to know mid-run whether you're pacing yourself well enough, or whether you need to kick it up a notch. Also, by recording your runs, the Nike+ app helps you treat your week-to-week runs almost like a video game score you're constantly battling with. It has been years since I ran competitively, so having very concrete evidence of my personal best that I need to beat is a motivator I had forgotten was so effective.

I'm not alone in this opinion. Shortly after the app was originally released, Engadget reviewer Vlad Savov said: “Nike has put together a very polished app, with few downsides that we can really harp on. It makes for an entertaining little accompaniment to what's usually an unpleasantly dull affair, and it certainly manages to generate an itch to keep improving and bettering your numbers. Which, given the budget price of $1.99, makes it a winner in our eyes.”

A criticism of users during the last version of the running app was what users described as interfering or intrusive ads. So when the app was re-released Nike essentially took off all of their ads, however they also pushed the new social media functionality of the app. You can now tag what shoes you were wearing on a run, and post it online.

So essentially, Nike decided to forgo revenue from a popular, useful application and not advertise other products to support their app, but turn the app itself into an advertisement. This is done not only by Nike potentially exposing your friends again and again to the brand, but merely by the app being an extremely useful, free product that you are going to be looking at with regularity.

"By allowing you to look back at your most recent run and let you put it up against your last seven, the engagement value of Nike’s app goes through the roof,” said Drew Olanoff, writer for thenextweb.com.

I, myself, am evidence of the products efficacy in turning engagement into value for Nike. No, it's not because I post every run I make to Facebook through the application like a braggart. You can avoid any of the unnecessary bells and whistles of the application with merciful ease, and the core functionality of the app is incredibly simple and easy to integrate with whatever music or radio you may like to play during your workout. And no it's not because I'm doing my runs in Nike brand shoes either (I don't know if I've ever actually owned a pair of Nike shoes).

Rather, I'm evidence of Nike's effectiveness because when I went to a Kohl's two months ago to purchase new socks (good socks, I told myself), I did not go in with an idea of what brand I was going to buy. I just wanted at least three or four pairs since my sock drawer was currently a mishmash. I saw Nike brand socks on the shelf and I knew that even if they aren't the best quality in the store, they weren’t going to tear on me too quickly. I thought of how I was wearing through my socks by running more, and I thought of the Nike+ application.

I don't know if it's accurate to say I thought Nike deserved my business or that I owed them anything because I had used their product for free, but rather, I now had a very positive association with the brand, and the parity of the purchase simply made sense. I have to wonder if Nike is all too aware of a similar thought process in their customers’ minds when they sell a relatively cheap headband with the Nike swoosh. If you're running around your neighborhood with a Nike logo on your head, on some level you're going to want to match that with some Nike shoes, rather than your off-brand kicks.

By forgoing the ongoing substantial income of a very popular, very well-reviewed app, I'm sure Nike was probably hoping to get a little bit more out of me than the single package of socks I purchased. However, Nike is not exactly a new brand, and they understand better than most the success of other emotionally marketed brands like Coca-Cola. Just think—how often do we put Coke instead of Pepsi in our shopping carts because we subconsciously really like cute CGI Polar Bears?

While I'd like to think that I am a rational consumer, immune to the tricks and tactics of advertisers, the next time I need to purchase a pair of sneakers I can't say that I won't go for a pair of Nike's rather than an equally-priced pair of Adidas shoes. Just like when I purchased my socks, Nike has succeeded in penetrating my emotional core in a way that all advertisers aspire with a nagging little voice that says “just do it.”

Andrew Hendricks

Editor-in-Chief and founder of HumanCreativeContent.com, a website that serves as a hub for freelancers to get new material workshopped and published, as well as an on-demand content platform for websites and new businesses.