Branding Misstep? Nike’s SB Dunk Low “Black & Tan” sneaker image by Sneaker News:


With St. Patrick’s Day around the corner, I am reminded of a powerful lesson on the importance of harnessing consumer insights for product branding. Seven years ago, Nike launched the “Black and Tan” trainer in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The sneaker, inspired by the drink consisting of half Guinness and half lager, used a similar color pallet and an insole barring an image of the iconic drink. The debut, which was designed to delight, instead was dubbed daft and insulting by its intended audience.

To many Irish, the term “Black and Tan” connotes the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force – a violent British paramilitary unit, commonly referred to as the Black and Tan, who terrorized Irish civilians in the 1920s. This attempt at a clever brand gesture to appeal to the Irish market instead turned out to be a massive misstep. This is what linguists call polysemy, which is when one term has similar and related meanings. Where an American audience might vaguely realize the connection, an Irish audience is immediately reminded of a dark past.

Could this footwear fiasco have been avoided so that Nike was confidently striding ahead rather than backpedaling? When investing in market research it is important to remember that the path of least resistance, such as limiting respondent recruitment to only the most obvious stakeholders, sometimes results in surface-level-only insights. It is our job as market researchers to work through those layers to find deeper insights. We must dig beyond the surface level. Like geologists, we must examine the strata, because the most valuable insights are often buried deeper.

Bill Stone

Director, Content Strategy