Where Did Nike Get the Inspiration for JUST DO IT? -=- The Answer Will Surprise You

JUST DO IT.  It’s one of the world’s most famous and enduring taglines.  It has been seen and said, heard and read billions of times.

It is a phenomenal piece of copy writing.  It captures the emotional essence of the Nike brand in a tiny three syllable sound bite.

Three Syllable Sound Bite

JUST DO IT is a concise and potent motivational speech that ignites the inner athlete prompting you to get off the couch, get into gear and go the extra mile.

JUST DO IT is immediately understandable, instantly repeatable and always actionable.

Nike has featured JUST DO IT in TV commercials, magazine ads, billboards, posters and T-shirts.  And it’s been printed on a few billion running shoe boxes.

A High Value Brand Asset

Along with the Nike name and the ubiquitous swoosh logo, JUST DO IT is an extremely high profile and valuable brand asset.

The tagline played a vital role in Nike’s astronomical growth in market share throughout the 1990s and establishing itself as an elite global brand.

Remarkable Staying Power

And JUST DO IT lives on today.  In our era of mass communication where the half life of a Twitter blast is 24 minutes, JUST DO IT has shown remarkable staying power.  It’s just shy of its 30th birthday.

JUST DO IT is older than Google, Amazon and the World Wide Web.

Remember 1988?

JUST DO IT made its debut in 1988.  Do you remember 1988?

In 1988, Ronald Reagan was President.  The Berlin Wall was still standing tall.  The Calgary Flames and the Edmonton Oilers were two of the best teams in the NHL.  1988 was a very long time ago.

The Surprising Source of JUST DO IT

JUST DO IT was developed for Phil Knight and team by Wieden+Kennedy, the trend setting Portland ad agency.  The most surprising thing about JUST DO IT is where the creative team found its source of inspiration.

JUST DO IT didn’t come from a boisterous brainstorming session or a weekend camping trip along the Oregon coast.  It came from inside the walls of the Utah State Prison and words uttered by a condemned man.

The prisoner was Gary Gilmore, a notorious spree killer who had murdered a gas station attendant and a motel manager in a pair of armed robberies in 1976.

Gilmore’s execution in January 1977 was a prominent news story.  Gilmore himself actively campaigned for the execution to take place.  It marked the first use of capital punishment in the U.S. in almost a decade.  It was only allowed to proceed after the Supreme Court overturned a number of earlier rulings that deemed the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment.

The Final Words of a Condemned Man

After he was strapped to an execution chamber chair in front of the firing squad, Gilmore was asked if he had any last words.

 Gilmore’s final “Let’s do it” words were prominently featured in news coverage including a front page headline in the New York Times.

Gilmore’s final “Let’s do it” words were prominently featured in news coverage including a front page headline in the New York Times.

He gave instructions to the five marksmen who had their rifles squarely aimed at the middle of his chest.  “Let’s do it,” he said.

A decade later the words still registered in the memories of the Wieden+Kennedy team.  Let’s do it, morphed into just do it, and Nike’s quintessential tagline was born.

The story behind the tagline’s unexpected and rather sinister inspiration source was kept secret for 20 years.  But secrets seldom remain secrets forever.  Dan Wieden finally spilled the beans in an interview that appears in the 2009 documentary Art & Copy.

Listen to Dan Wieden tell the story about the inspiration for JUST DO IT

JUST DO IT Lessons for Your Business

The JUST DO IT story is more than an interesting trivia item.  It illustrates a couple of key marketing insights for your business.

The first is about creativity.  In the words of Dan Wieden, inspiration can come from the “most inadvertent” sources.  When you’re looking for a new idea, cast a wide net and be attentive to what grabs you.

The second and more obvious lesson is the immense value of a great tagline.  The right concise catchy phrase is an extremely valuable marketing asset.  It can catapult your brand to new heights and dominate your industry for decades.

Does your company have a mind-riveting tagline?  If it doesn’t, it would be a great idea to create one.  Given the benefits, this should be a top priority assignment.  Don’t wait another minute.  JUST DO IT.