Quantum Brief

Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ creator Dan Wieden dies at 77: A look at his work

Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden-Kennedy passes at 77. Let’s take a look at some of the most iconic ads created for Nike.

By  Aashrey BaligaOct 4, 2022 5:27 PM
Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ creator Dan Wieden dies at 77: A look at his work
Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden-Kennedy created the most famous tagline in advertising history, Nike’s ‘Just do it!’ He started off his career at McCann Ericksson where he met his future business partner David Kennedy.

Dan Wieden was the co-founder of Wieden-Kennedy, a global ad agency responsible for building some of the most iconic brands. A stalwart of the advertising world, Wieden was the one who coined the very famous Nike tagline ‘Just Do It’. Born in Portland, Oregan, Wieden studied Journalism before moving on to advertising. During his stint in McCann Ericksson, he met David Kennedy with whom he started Wieden-Kennedy also known as W+K, their own venture.

Nike was W+K’s first client back when they only had three employees.

Let us look at some Dan Wieden’s most famous work for Nike.

Nike Evolution, Trophy, and Co-Op All Sports October 23, 1982

This cluster of three ads was the very first piece of work Wieden-Kennedy did for Nike. Brilliantly conceptualised and in keeping with what worked in those times, these ads were an absolute hit. Nicknamed ‘Evolution’, ‘Trophy’ and ‘Co-op’, these ads were the first ever to be broadcasted nationwide in the US by Nike. All three ads successfully conveyed that Nike was a clever and witty brand meant for people who loved sports.

However, there was something missing. Wieden felt that Nike as a brand needed something more to drive the point home. The ads, while they worked well in their favour, didn’t quite have closure, something that brought everything together. Finally, inspiration struck in 1987 and not from a straightforward source. It was the last words of convicted murderer, Gary Gilmore who said to his gang who were armed and ready to fire, “Let’s do it!” That’s what made Wieden realise that the brand needed a tagline and so, the most famous tagline in advertising history was born, ‘Just Do It!’

Folks at Nike and fellow colleagues at Wieden-Kennedy weren’t convinced of Wieden’s idea since this advertisement that would feature the new tagline was scheduled to be Nike’s first big television campaign. They’re trust and faith in Wieden, however, resulted in them going ahead with his plan.

"Creatives in the agency all questioned if we really needed it. Nike questioned it. I said, Look, I think we do. I believe we have too many disparate commercials that don’t add up to anything without a tagline. I’m not married to the thing. We can drop it next round. A lot of shrugged shoulders, but they let it ride.”

Nike Just Do It - 1988

This ad features an 80 year old man running across the Golden Gate bridge. He enjoys it and runs 17 miles in just shorts and shoes every morning. People who notice him always ask how he manages to keep his teeth from shattering in the winters. In a quippy manner, he says the he leaves his teeth in his locker. The ad ends with Nike’s tagline ‘Just do it!’ A fun-loving, simple and motivational ad with an evergreen concept.

This ad set the benchmark for Nike.

Let’s take a look at some of Wieden-Kennedy’s recent work.

Nike 50th Anniversary | Seen It All - Spike Lee Director’s Cut

Out with the old, in with the new. That's something Nike doesn’t believe in. The 50th anniversary ad is a nice mix of classic and contemporary. An old school hiphop artist and a new age star battle it out in a fun and interesting style. They are singing in rap and letting each other know about the various great athletes that they witnessed in their respective times. The old school artist or the OG as he was being referred to, Spike Lee who reimagines his role as Mars Blackmon mentions all the sports legends who have carved a niche for themselves over the years, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Megan Rapinoe, Ronaldino, Serena Williams. On the other hand, the new artist, Zimmie says that there are athletes who are just as good if not better in this new generation as well. Mbappe, Sabrina Ionescu, Naomi Osaca, Joe Burrows to name a few. All these athletes endorse Nike, hence the ad shows that everyone who made it big was associated with Nike. Nike not only supports stars who are already immensely successful but also puts its faith in in emerging stars who will make it big in the future. Every moment in the last 50 years was just the beginning, The journey never ends. An excellent campaign worth watching.

Nike - ReactLand

A great way to market a product is to build an interactive experience around it. Nike seems to have a knack for it. Nike’s ‘ReactLand’ campaign involved ways in which in-store shoes trials could be made fun. Normally, trials are pretty dull and boring involving listing a few features of the product in a rather uninteresting fashion. Nike saw an interesting opportunity here. They installed immersive games at various stores in China that could be played by running. The customer had to wear Nike shoes and step on to a treadmill after have their picture taken to create a digital avatar of themselves that would participate in the game. A hand controller was provided to them to allow them to jump. The goal was to run and see how far you could get in the game and how high you could reach on the leaderboard. The terrain brought out the qualities of the shoe, light, soft and bouncy. At the end of the experience each player got 10 second video of them making their way through ‘Reactland’ to upload on their social media. This was a successful attempt at selling their shoe as 48% of players who participated in this immersive experience ended up buying the shoe.

Wieden has had an amazing impact on multiple brands throughout his career. Wieden-Kennedy has conceptualised and created multiple successful campaigns for big brands in India as well as abroad, Delhivery, Ford, Corona, McDonald’s, IKEA, Honda, P&G to name a few. Though all very impactful and triumphant, none have been as iconic as the relationship with Nike.

There is definitely a large hole in the advertising world after the loss of Wieden recently at the age of 77. His influence on the how ads are perceived and created however, will live as long as time.

First Published on Oct 4, 2022 3:15 PM