101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior

BRAND EDITION

Craig Lyon

Senior Brand Director, North America at Nike

 

“Multitasking, especially for today’s youth, is no longer multitasking, it’s life. Everyone is doing, and listening to, four, five, six things at once, all the time. The ability for brands to cut through the literal noise and trigger a response is something only audio can do.”

 

 Craig Lyon, Senior Brand Director, North America, Nike

 

 

Craig Lyon, a ten-year Ex-Nike marketing veteran, is a charismatic global business leader with year-over-year success in driving brand affinity, consumer demand and growth through game-changing brand initiatives and a natural ability to unify and energize diverse teams. His journey with Nike started as an internship that led to opportunities in advertising, digital platform design, social media and brand management before taking on leadership roles in the Global Basketball and North America marketing teams.

Uli Reese: Can you talk about your previous role at Nike.

Craig Lyon:
In my role as a territory lead at Nike, my team was responsible for bringing brand activations, communications and retail experiences to life across the central United States and Canada. Not only were we bringing global brand messages and services to consumers across our region, especially through digital platforms during the pandemic, we also reverse-engineered that process by mining stories from our marketplace to share up and out with the world. Our ability to leverage the global power of the brand to lift, aid and propel the pursuits of individuals in our communities was without question my favorite part of my time in territory.

Reese: How important is the sense of hearing in terms of brand building?


Craig:
Consider this, the first form of trust children develop is the sound and recognition of their mother’s voice.  So even before birth, your ears are the instruments developing feelings of comfort, of safety.  Now think about the way brands build messaging, especially in film.  In my experience, it starts with the question; what is the emotion we’re trying to draw out of you? What are we trying to help you to understand, believe in, believe that we believe in? Then most turn to finding the right words, the right music, the right V/O artist with the right the pacing.  All of this can happen before seeing any real visuals in the creative process.  Not only that, but these audio components become the elements brands are willing to pay for.  Because if they are wrong, the message stands no chance. You could write the most beautiful song lyrics the world has ever known, but if you put the wrong instruments and rhythm behind it, it simply won’t deliver the way it does on paper. I’ve always loved being a part of briefing sessions where music is used during a read along. By using audio in these early stages to stir up emotions in the creative team that you hope consumers will feel, you give them real feelings to run with as they dive into the work.

Reese: Agencies feel pressure when they show a campaign to a client to walk in with a piece of pop culture. Why?

Craig: Not having worked at an agency, I won’t pretend to know the origin of this pressure from experience.  But I imagine it’s often self-inflicted and rooted in preconceived expectations of the results, often quantitative, the client wants.  Ironically, I say that because I’ve found that clients often misstep in agency briefings with similar preconceived expectations, in this case, expectations of what the agency wants in a brief.  Ultimately going too deep and hindering the creative freedom that allows breakthrough work to come to life. 

Reese: Do you agree that Nike leverages pop culture?

Craig:
Sure, that’s fair to say.  I’d also add that brands like Nike have the ability to create pop culture on their own accord if their willing to put in the work.

As the athletic and sportswear industry leans further into the arts and fashion, the best partnerships will be focused on the creation of new pop cultural currency, vs. latching on to whatever is at the top of the charts. Those who build genuine partnerships from the inside out that fuse the values and creativity between two parties to create pop culture will rise above the noise of others hitching a ride on the energy of someone else’s resonance with their desired consumer.

Reese: It is easy to lose a sense of the brand when you pivot towards pop culture…

Craig: Absolutely, but for me during my time with Nike, the center point of the brand and our work was always sport and specifically the athlete.  Pop culture was, and still is, a source of energy and storytelling, but it was never on equal footing with sport. I’ve always believed this unwavering commitment to sport is Nike’s great advantage and distinguishing factor against the competition.

“Multitasking, especially for today’s youth, is no longer multitasking, it’s life. Everyone is doing, and listening to, four, five, six things at once, all the time.  The ability for brands to cut through the literal noise and trigger a response is something only audio can do.”

Reese: Do you see audio growing in importance in branding?

Craig:
My daughter is just over a year old, and she knows the sound Netflix makes when we turn on the TV to play her cartoons.  As soon as she hears it, you’re likely to see her drop what she’s doing, walk to her little chair and sit down to tune in.  Even this early in her life, she can immediately recognize the meaning of the sound, along with countless others, and trigger a response.  Multitasking, especially for today’s youth, is no longer multitasking, it’s life. Everyone is doing, and listening to, four, five, six things at once, all the time.  The ability for brands to cut through the literal noise and trigger a response is something only audio can do.

Reese: You said at the start that sound is the first experience of trust. Can you expand on that?

Craig: 
Beyond sound being the first foundational building block of trust for a child, it’s wild to think about how dependent we are on audio as a superior trigger to action in our everyday lives.  Seeing the fire truck, even with all its lights flashing, requires you to be looking up and in the right direction to know it’s coming.  But when those sirens go off, you immediately understand what’s happening and can take action before ever seeing the truck. 

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