The Holy Breath of Inspiration

swoosh.gifThe market is Western culture’s cosmology. In the space where symbols, archetypes and elemental energies once occupied the Western psyche, the brand has grown into the vacancy left by a shift of culture towards ever-increasing commoditization of consciousness. One does not have to look very far to observe parallels between brand-stories and core human tendencies to meet the need of myth.
The Nike swoosh is a great example of a brand that holds a key to one of these core mythological human needs. The swoosh is air. It is ethereal and quickly able to “Just Do It.” It moves effortlessly and with great power. The Nike corporation defines itself as being in service to human potential. According to Nike, “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Basically, the story of the swoosh proclaims a universal truth: if you are breathing, you are alive, and you are wrought with physical potential through the breath, the element of air.

According to David Abram, author of The Spell of the Sensuous, our verbiage is formed by sounds in nature. Therefore, it is not uncommon to notice that certain words, like swoosh, replicate the sounds of what they represent. Swoosh is definitely a wind word. Abram also notes that the holy word for the un-nameable divine essence, Yahweh, actually represents the breath by inhale (yah) and exhale (weh). If one takes a deep breath with lips slightly parted, the subtle sound of yah-weh can be heard. So, the essence of living consciousness, breath, is the only sound-name to approximate the divinity of what cannot be described: the mystery of life.
Did the creators of the swoosh know what they were doing? Did they know they were tapping into such primal human depths? Probably not. The story goes that in 1971 Phil Knight asked Carolyn Davidson, then newly graduated graphic designer, to design a shoe stripe for his small company. His response to her design was, “I don’t love it, but it will grow on me.” He paid $35 for her work.
Furthermore, Nike has built its brand identity in association with superstar athlete Michael Jordan. Nike’s brand story is so potent, it successfully connects itself with a typically marginalized sector of Western culture, young black men, and demonstrates perceived exceptional achievement against all odds. That is an emphatic “Just Do It.”
It is worth considering whether or not the Nike swoosh would be a recognizable global brand, whether or not it would speak to a core human story, without its primal and mythological aspects.