Interesting Facts

The story of Nike's famous tagline "Just do it"

Nike’s inspiration for their slogan “Just do it.” came from a man who was about to get executed, and his final words to the firing squad was “let’s do it!”

Dan Wieden didn’t want to enter the advertising industry like his father did when he was a young man. In 2003, Mr. Wieden told Adweek magazine, “I could never understand why he was in such a whorish industry.

He majored in journalism at the University of Oregon in the middle of the 1960s. In his early 20s, he married and had children. Due to the need for consistent income, advertising was created. He became fascinated by the challenge of expressing complex ideas in few words. He helped David Kennedy found the Portland, Oregon-based advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy in 1982.

At the time, Nike Inc. was their only customer. It fit like a glove. Nike co-founder Phil Knight detested traditional advertising. The founders of the new agency tended to pitch ads that were unconventional, edgy, and creative. Nike’s slogan, “Just Do It,” was created by Mr. Wieden in 1988.

In the 2009 film “Art & Copy,” Mr. Wieden claimed that Gary Gilmore’s remark, “Let’s do it,” shortly before his execution in 1977 was a major inspiration for the idea. Mr. Wieden recalled thinking, “I like the ‘do it’ part of it.” Nike representatives did not respond to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for Wieden+Kennedy declined to comment.

The Nike advertisements helped turn a small local business into a major advertising agency. In 1991, Subaru of America hired Wieden+Kennedy. Since that time, a long list of clients has included Coca-Cola Co., McDonald’s Corp., Starbucks Corp., and Microsoft Corp. The company employs about 1,500 people and has locations in the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

Mr. Wieden established a trust to protect the company’s independence so that it wouldn’t run the risk of being absorbed by a sizable holding company.

On September 30, Mr. Wieden passed away in his Portland home. He was 77 years old and had Alzheimer’s. Mr. Kennedy, his partner, passed away a year ago at the age of 82.

Mr. Wieden (pronounced why-den) credited the company’s success in part to a hiring practice that favors outcasts and oddballs over seasoned advertising professionals. He stated, “I think people need to feel safe but still under pressure in some strange way, a healthy pressure when it comes to managing people. People must sense your support for their success.

He cautioned advertising professionals against becoming complacent, telling them to “walk in stupid every morning.” He stated that the moment one stops learning and questioning and begins to believe in their own wisdom, they will die.

According to Bill Davenport, a longtime colleague, Messrs. Wieden and Kennedy “didn’t really dictate or mandate.” They allowed people to find their own way. It was a sink-or-swim culture in some ways. However, they never used a strong hand.

Dan Gordon Wieden was raised in Portland where he was born on March 6, 1945. Francis “Duke” Wieden, his father, served as the company’s president.

The younger Mr. Wieden worked for Georgia-Pacific Corporation as a writer of marketing materials after earning his degree from the University of Oregon in 1967. He detested his job and, according to his own admission, caused so much trouble that he was ultimately let go. He attempted writing for hire before joining the McCann-Erickson advertising agency. He met Mr. Kennedy there, whose artistic abilities and sense of humor enhanced Mr. Wieden’s writing abilities.

They initially had a card table and cardboard filing cabinets in their office. They made client calls on a pay phone.

The company made a statement by promoting Honda scooters with a collage of New York City street scenes that featured Lou Reed and his song “Walk on the Wild Side.” Later on, in a Nike advertisement, Wieden+Kennedy combined the talented athlete Bo Jackson with Bo Diddley.

Bonnie Scott Wieden, Mr. Wieden’s first wife, passed away in 2008. In 2012, he wed Priscilla Bernard. Along with four children, six grandchildren, a brother, and a sister, she survives him.

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