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Obituary: Nike Fuel band

Babatunde Adebola
Babatunde Adebola

Inspired by the last words of a convict on the death row, the phrase Just do it, powered with its I don’t give a damn nuance is one claim that has defined the Nike brand not just in terms of communication but the brand’s behaviour. Who would have thought that a flash of brilliance from one man’s dark moment would light up people to see the fact that everyone who has a body is an athlete. In democratizing this point of view, Nike expanded the possibility of what can be achieved. Nike went from being an athlete brand to a lifestyle sport brand.

As the brand towed this long road, it met technology on the way. They crossed eyes and hugged. And the rest, as they say, is the Nike plus project that won Grand prix at Cannes in the year of the lord, 2007. 

The simple but not simplistic idea was to have a sensor in your shoe that sends data to one’s iPad by tracking movements and awarding scores. View URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G08YOptTHtQ 

It was an early arrival of the concept of quantified self. Strip it off the data, the hook is the innate ability for one to improve one’s self and even measure up to, or beat others. It doesn’t get more primal than this. 

Boom!

Fast forward 2011/12: Nike seized the moment at the sunrise of wearable technology. It launched the Nike Fuel band, a digital wrist band that count every moment in units called Fuel. To be clear, Fuel is the count. And Fuel band is what it is. View URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOlOQsCzTvA

Expectedly, it was greeted with applause. Folks in ad land upheld it as the symbol of what innovation means in the age of big data.  Students of business’ blue ocean strategy saw it as a smart brand seizing the high ground before it becomes ups for grabs, perhaps adhering to Wole Soyinka’s advice: set forth at dawn you must.

Last week however, Nike shocked innovation circles when it announced the end of the production of Fuel band as a hard ware. Just when jaws went dropping on the floor, the brand clarified its decision: that the idea of counting body movement in Fuel as the official currency of the community stands as a software product. The company went on to say what it would be doing is to partner with tech hardware firms (Apple,Samsung,HTC) in order to keep the Fuel community flourishing. The role of the brand here is to be the software custodian. Even as it ventures into the intangible, its core products are tangles. Paradoxical right?

Here comes the puzzling question: why has Nike chosen to take a retreat on a turf that is not only a competitive advantage it has helped to go mainstream but a future line of business? Cost happens. Although everyone agrees the future of tech is wearables, as at today it is fuzzy. Since smart phones fill the need for hardware thus it makes sense that Fuel counts as the software is what Nike should focus its energy on. Did Nike make the right call considering the fact that as the world goes more digital, the craving for physical will rise. The jury is out. Fortunately, the writer is not a strategist, so one is curious on how this will pan out eventually.

In all these, the only sense this writer could make is to wonder what Karl Marx would think were he alive today… “the age of internet of things”. In his critique of modern day business, he came up with the theory of commodity fetishism. Forget the big jargon, Marx said that “fetishism is "the religion of sensuous appetites", and that the fantasy of the appetites tricks the fetish worshipper (consumer) into believing that an inanimate object (in this case Nike’s Fuel-band) will yield its natural character to gratify the desires of the worshipper. Therefore, the crude appetite of the fetish worshipper smashes the fetish (the Nike’s Fuel-band) when it ceases to be of service.”

Further, what Marx was saying is that “social relations between people—who make what, who works for whom, the production-time for a commodity, et cetera—are seen as economic relations among objects. That is to say, how valuable a given commodity is when compared to another commodity.” Thus, as Nike lay off its work force and discontinues the production of Fuel band, the staff (makers of stuff as they like to pride themselves) have become the pawn in the comparison game of which does the work of measuring body movement better: smart phones or this humble wrist band called Fuel band.

As they peddle their resumes around in search for new jobs or even float a new start up, they, as well as their former employers (Nike) can be proud of the fact that even in failure they pushed the envelope. Bravo!

Babatunde Adebola has the big title of an associate creative director at a leading marketing communications consultancy. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or at +2348137457956.