Zendaya and Federer Boost On Running: A Rising Rival to Nike

In a move that has left the sportswear industry buzzing, Zendaya, the celebrated actress and style icon, has chosen to align herself with On—a brand that’s rapidly becoming a formidable contender in the market. Known for her impeccable fashion sense and influential presence, Zendaya’s decision is a testament to On’s burgeoning status. But what exactly is On, and how did it manage to lure one of Hollywood’s brightest stars away from the likes of Nike, Adidas, and Puma?

Roger Federer: The Catalyst Behind On’s Meteoric Rise

To understand On’s allure, we need to delve into the story of another sports legend who played a pivotal role in its ascent—Roger Federer. Federer, a titan in the tennis world with 20 Grand Slam titles under his belt, had long been synonymous with Nike.

Their partnership was iconic, reminiscent of Michael Jordan’s era with the brand. However, in a surprising turn of events, Federer parted ways with Nike and invested in On, setting the stage for a revolution in sports footwear.

Federer’s departure from Nike was not without controversy. Critics argued that he was forsaking the powerhouse marketing support that Nike could provide, potentially jeopardizing his brand’s longevity post-retirement.

Despite the skeptics, Federer’s gamble paid off. He didn’t just invest in On; he became a co-owner, helping to build what would become the fastest-growing shoe company in history. While it took Nike eight years to reach a billion dollars in sales post-IPO, On achieved this milestone in just 18 months.

The Birth of a New Competitor

On and Nike emerged in different eras and under varied circumstances, yet their trajectories show striking parallels—both are rooted in innovation, driven by performance, and defined by strong branding. The question now is whether On can do what Nike did, only better and faster.

Nike’s history is enshrined in its origins, with a simple waffle iron used by co-founder Bill Bowerman to create the Waffle Trainer. In contrast, On’s inception is a modern fairy tale of ingenuity and persistence. In 2005, Swiss athlete Olivier Bernhard received an unconventional proposal from an engineer who altered Bernhard’s Nike shoes by attaching pieces of garden hose to the soles.

The result? A running experience so transformative that it felt like “running on clouds.” Despite the odd appearance, this innovation laid the groundwork for On’s unique technology.

From Humble Beginnings to Technological Marvel

For three years, Bernhard tirelessly refined the concept, moving from crude prototypes to a market-ready product. Initially dismissed by Nike, Bernhard’s vision found supporters in David Allemann and Caspar Coppetti. Together, they founded On in 2010, launching their first shoe, the Cloudracer. The shoe’s revolutionary design and unparalleled comfort quickly garnered a dedicated following.

On’s breakthrough came with the development of CloudTec, a cushioning technology patented in 2010. This innovation, which enhances running efficiency by optimizing ground contact and lift-off, became the cornerstone of On’s product line.

Studies confirmed that runners using On shoes experienced lower pulse rates and reduced blood lactate levels, reinforcing the brand’s commitment to performance and comfort.

Strategic Success and Marketing Mastery

On’s ascent can be attributed to several strategic maneuvers. One significant factor was an unexpected endorsement from Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. In 2020, Johnson wore On shoes during the Super Bowl promo intro, a fortuitous event that generated immense publicity for the brand without any formal endorsement deal.

This stroke of luck, coupled with a calculated marketing strategy, catapulted On into the spotlight.

Another key to On’s success is its direct-to-consumer approach, which bypasses traditional retail channels. By selling primarily through their online store and select flagship locations, On retains a higher profit margin and maintains tight control over their brand image.

Their selective presence in premium shopping areas further cements their status as a high-end, desirable brand.

Leveraging Swiss Precision and Quality

On’s Swiss heritage plays a crucial role in its branding. The perception of Swiss engineering as synonymous with precision and quality has been skillfully integrated into On’s marketing.

The inclusion of a Swiss flag on their products and the emphasis on ‘Swiss Engineering’ resonate with consumers seeking high-quality, reliable footwear. This strategy of associating with Swiss excellence, combined with limited supply tactics akin to luxury watchmakers like Rolex, has fostered a sense of exclusivity around the brand.

The endorsement by Roger Federer solidified On’s premium positioning. Federer’s involvement goes beyond a mere endorsement; as a significant shareholder and active contributor to product design, his association underscores the authenticity and depth of the partnership. This synergy has driven On’s sales to quadruple since Federer came on board.

Innovative Approaches to Sustainability and Customer Loyalty

Innovation at On is not confined to product design. They have pioneered a subscription model with the CloudNeo, a shoe available only for rent. This model not only ensures regular feedback and continuous customer engagement but also promotes sustainability by recycling old shoes.

To fuel its global expansion and sustain its growth trajectory, On went public in 2021. The IPO raised nearly $750 million, valuing the company at $6 billion.

Today, On’s market value stands at approximately $10 billion. While it still has a long way to go to rival Nike’s $47 billion revenue, On’s rapid growth and innovative approach position it as a serious contender.

The Road Ahead: Challenges and Opportunities

Despite its phenomenal rise, On faces significant challenges. To truly compete with giants like Nike, On must expand beyond its niche market while preserving its premium image. This delicate balance will be crucial as On continues to grow.

For now, On remains focused on its core strengths—innovative technology, high-quality products, and strategic marketing. Zendaya’s endorsement is the latest testament to On’s savvy branding. As On continues its journey, it exemplifies how disruptive innovation and strategic vision can challenge even the most entrenched industry leaders.

In an era where authenticity and quality are paramount, On’s story is a compelling narrative of resilience, ingenuity, and bold ambition. As Zendaya, Federer, and countless others lace up their On shoes, they are not just endorsing a brand; they are championing a revolution in sportswear.

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