Brand expert Designit on Nike’s own goal over England flag


Global sports brand Nike found itself at the centre of a huge storm last week when it dare to mess with the sacred St George’s Cross colours on its new England football shirts.

Nike not only incurred the wrath of English footballers, but also UK Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, who warned that Nike “should not mess” with the national flag, which is seines a symbol of unity among the English. It also forms a key part of the national flag for the United Kingdom as a whole.

Nike flag gaff

For such a powerful global brand to make such a huge, and according to some, disrespectful gaff, seems bizarre in our current times, and Nike has since apologised.

In a statement Nike said: “We have been a proud partner of the FA since 2012 and understand the significance and importance of the St George’s Cross and it was never our intention to offend, given what it means to England fans.

Marketing and branding experts also reacted with incredulity at how the powers that be within Nike could even have thought such a move could ever have been signed off in the first place.

Sam Hoey, design lead at global strategic design firm, Designit, said: “It was never going to pass without comment, but Nike’s changes to the St George’s flag – the national symbol of England – have created a politicised outcry. Rightly so – can you imagine Nike giving the stars and stripes a makeover for the US kit?

“Yes, brands and logos get updated all the time (and to be fair, Umbro dabbled similarly years ago, too). The issue is that when it comes to brand reputation, there’s a fine line between designing to refresh, and wilful erosion of a national identity.

“Nike and its design team – not to mention the FA, which signed this off – took a misstep in underestimating the power of a logo to evoke long-held, deeply felt allegiances.

“It’s curious given how much stock Nike puts into its own brand narrative.

“At best, you could argue that in the process of design brief, reviews and iterations, the team got carried away (albeit in the wrong direction). What’s more likely is that this is an instance of how the power balance between brand sponsors and organisations like the FA has shifted so that something as central to national identity as the flag has not been flagged, questioned and put straight before a stitch was sewn.”

Nike’s shares in the US tumbled 10% last Friday following the launch of the controversial new England football strips.