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Adam Grubb Media

The Dark Story behind “Just Do It”





Nike is built on inspiration. From the world’s most elite athletes to the athletes that live and breathe and struggle inside all of us, this brand captures raw intensity and emotion better than any other company on earth. Bold statement? Absolutely. And it’s true. Just look at their tagline: Just Do It.


Walter Stack just did it; he ran 17 miles a day and approximately 62,0000 miles in his lifetime. He also became the face of Nike in 1988. Take a look:


This is the first time that the slogan appeared in a Nike ad. Did we mention Walter was 80 years old when he was pounding out 17 miles of pavement every morning? He also started Nike’s resurgence in the 1980s. They reversed a decline in sales and market share with that ad and that campaign. It was just the beginning.


The next year, Nike signed Michael Jordan — an up-and-comer — and over the years, Charles Barkley, Roger Federer, Kobe Bryant, Venus and Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods became synonymous with victory, tenacity, perseverance, and inspiration. All of the qualities we saw in Walter Stack.


But what about the inspiration for the slogan? Did Nike’s marketing team get together and brainstorm words that would compel average people to do extraordinary things? No.


Dan Wieden, of Wieden+Kennedy Agency, drew inspiration from the last words of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore. Gilmore demanded the implementation of the death penalty after he killed two people in Utah, and his dying words were, of course, “Just do it.”


Does it matter where inspiration comes from? Not as long as it works. “Just Do It” powered Nike from an 18% share of the domestic sport shoe market to 43% and from $877 million to $9.2 billion from 1988 (when Walter ran across the San Francisco Bridge) to 1998. They haven’t stopped since.


It may be a dark story, but it launched an innovative idea that captured the attention of the world. It allowed Nike to tell stories, differently, that resonate with just about everyone on the planet.