Ad Campaigns: Nike Just Do It
Picture it: you have the incredible opportunity to pitch a slogan to a major company, but you've run out of ideas. Out of options, you flip through the channels on TV, looking for anything that might spark an idea for some new, copy.
What you find is a news report about a recent execution and, suddenly... eureka!
While this may seem made up it's actually the dark origin story behind one of Nike's most famous advertising campaigns! If a company as successful as Nike could find their most famous slogan in a bleak headline, then inspiration truly is all around us!
Interested in the crazy history of Nike's 'Just Do It' campaign?
Read on to learn about how this well-known slogan went from 'famous last words' to a world-famous slogan!
From Execution to the Executives
In the late 1980s, Nike was hardly the powerhouse brand that they are today. In fact, they were struggling. Nike needed something brilliant to help them stand out.
Nike's competitor, Reebok, was doing a lot more business at the time. Reebok's campaigns were focused on peak fitness and promoted an ideal. They inspired a trend of many similar campaigns across brands.
It was 1988 when an executive from the Wieden+Kennedy agency in Portland, Oregon had the chance to pitch a new slogan to the brand.
Dan Wieden had been thinking about the famous last words of murderer Gary Gilmore. Gilmore was executed by firing squad in January of 1977 after being convicted of murder.
Those words? "Let's do it."
While dark, the phrase was powerful. The part that stuck with Wieden was the latter part of the quote - the command to 'do it.'
That inspired the 'Just Do It,' slogan, which is what he pitched to the executives that day in 1988.
Naturally, Nike wasn't a fan right away, for obvious reasons - they didn't want to be forever associated with death.
Clearly, this wasn't the case, however, as these days the slogan evokes the famous Nike swoosh, sleek athletic shoes, and basketball stars.
Talk about effective branding!
Just Doing It
Though they were not sure about it at first, those executives at Nike, including founder Phil Knight, ultimately gave it a shot. The first advertising campaign featuring the 'Just Do It' slogan aired that same year.
The very first ad campaign featured Walt Stack, an octogenarian and marathon runner. Nike's goal wasn't to appeal to the fittest Americans, which is what their competitive Reebok was doing at the time.
Instead, Nike hoped their campaign would appeal to all Americans.
In the ad, Stack, shirtless but wearing Nike sneakers, jogs across the Golden Gate bridge while upbeat instrumental music plays. Stack declares proudly that he runs seventeen miles every day.
He ends the spot with a joke about keeping his teeth from chattering by keeping them in his locker, and then that famous slogan flashes on the screen:
"Just Do It."
By featuring an elderly athlete in their campaign, Nike immediately stood out from their competition and gained attention.
Walt Stack was charming, fit, and inspirational and, when paired with Nike's new slogan, became an inspiration for the would-be Nike consumers out in television land.
Needless to say, the advertising campaign was a hit.
Nike proceeded to create ads featuring many other athletes, including professional basketball, tennis, and football stars.
Some notable names featured in those early campaigns include Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant.
The brand was on its way to proving itself as a company that produced products that were just as good for the everyman as they were for the biggest names in professional sports.
From there, 'Just Do It' would become Nike's signature slogan. While Walt Stack's charming morning run was the first outing for the phrase, it clearly wasn't the last.
Nike continues using the slogan in its digital and online campaigns today, even if they have taken on a different aesthetic.
The Financial Success of 'Just Do It'
After the campaign premiered, the worldwide sales of Nike products increased from $877 Million to $9.2 Billion.
That was an increase from 18% of the American market to an incredible 43%.
Needless to say, the advent of 'Just Do It' is still considered a major turning point for the success of the Nike brand.
Sales would go on to increase over 1000% over the following decade, cementing Nike's place as one of the most iconic athletic footwear brands in America.
The Message Persists
The 'Just Do It,' slogan would become part of several other important Nike campaigns from there, inspiring individuals of all ages, races, and walks of life.
It was in 1995 when Nike would bring gender into the mix, with their "If You Let Me Play,' advertisement, which shone a light on issues of women's equity in athletics.
In the late '90s, the Nike brand also brought a focus to the AIDS epidemic, by featuring an HIV-positive marathon runner named Ric Munoz.
They remained dedicated to their mission of helping all people see themselves as capable.
Throughout the years, Nike would continue to attach the slogan to advertising campaigns that featured personal stories of individuals from an endless variety of backgrounds, each of whom was 'Just Doing' something unique.
It allowed Nike shoppers to see themselves reflected in the campaign and helped new generations to embrace the product.
Controversy as Publicity
The slogan celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2018 with its 'Dream Crazy,' campaign, which is memorable due to its ties to football player Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick, an NFL quarterback, became even more of a household name when, in 2016, he chose to 'take a knee,' during the National Anthem.
Naturally, this created some controversy, which began a #NikeBoycott that allowed Americans to express their displeasure with the choice of Kaepernick on social media.
Even so, the advertising campaign featuring Kaepernick has been considered successful.
This success can be attributed to the way the ad reached the targeted demographic and encouraged further support from those who agreed with Kaepernick's stance against police violence.
Ultimately, the ad featuring Kaepernick would go on to win an Emmy for best commercial.
The 'Just Do It' slogan would also be tied to an internet meme featuring actor Shia LaBeouf. In 2015, LaBeouf would perform an over-the-top motivational monologue, named for the Nike slogan.
In the video, the actor chants "Do it. Just. Do it," while shouting inspiration at the viewer. It caught on almost instantly and became a meme at once.
The piece was filmed in front of a green screen, and released under a creative commons license, allowing the internet to take it into their own hands.
Fans mashed it up in a million clever and creative ways. Even still, the phrase continued to remind people of the Nike brand, providing a weird source of free advertising while the meme was popular.
The 'Just Do It' Legacy
The use of the famous advertising slogan continues today. One of the more recent Nike advertisements in their 'Play New' advertising campaign seems to seek to reach those of us who haven't been to the gym in a while due to Covid-19.
The ad directly acknowledges that many of Nike's regular everyman consumers may be struggling to get back in the game.
The ad uses a familiar and contemporary tone, encouraging the viewer to "give it your all, even though you kind of suck."
Even so, the ad remains positive and encouraging. It suggests that we all get back out there and try something new.
The commercial, featuring actors experiencing wipeouts and epic fails, has come a long way from that early spot featuring Walt Stack jogging across the Golden Gate, but still maintains that original integrity.
No matter the context, the 'Just Do It' slogan remains attached to campaigns that are motivational, encouraging, inspiring, and, occasionally, pretty funny and clever!
If the story of Nike's most famous slogan can teach you anything, it's that inspiration can come from anywhere.
If you are focused on your message and your audience, the simplest copy can really make a difference for a brand.
Want To Work on an Advertising Campaign? Just Do It!
Want to create the next great American advertising slogan? If you're not into watching executions-by-firing squad, signing up for a course with San Francisco School of Copywriting might be a great way to get started.
We offer online and in-person courses at multiple levels that can help you break into the field or improve your skills.
Sign up for our free course, Copywriting to Go, to get a taste of what we offer, and pick up a few tips that are sure to get you writing the next great slogan in no time! On the fence? JUST DO IT!