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'Just Do It' Was Inspired by a Killer's Last Words

And Nike execs weren't convinced it would work
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 22, 2015 1:32 PM CDT
'Just Do It' Was Inspired by a Killer's Last Words
The Nike logo is seen on an LSU player's cleats.   (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

(Newser) – Nike's co-founder originally wasn't so sure about the phrase "Just do it," and given its origins, he may have had a point. Dan Wieden, the ad exec who came up with the Nike slogan, tells Dezeen that it's based on the last words of a convicted murderer. The story goes like this: In 1988, Wieden was looking for a theme to unite a number of Nike ads. "I thought, you know, we need a tagline to pull this stuff together," he says. When he came up with "Just do it," he was thinking of a man in Portland—the area where both his ad agency and Nike are based. That man was one Gary Gilmore, who was executed by firing squad in 1977 after he killed two men, Dezeen reports.

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"They asked him if he had any final thoughts, and he said: 'Let's do it.' I went: 'Now damn. How do you do that? How do you ask for an ultimate challenge that you are probably going to lose, but you call it in?'" Wieden says. He says he "didn't like 'Let’s do it,' so I just changed it to 'Just do it.'" Others at the Wieden+Kennedy agency didn't love the phrase, nor did Nike co-founder Phil Knight, Wieden says. "I said, 'Just trust me on this one.' So they trusted me, and it went big pretty quickly." The first ad to feature the slogan, the Sydney Morning Herald reports, showcased an 80-year-old long-distance runner. "People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime," the runner says. "I leave them in my locker." That's when the words appear. (One sign they've worked: A judge recently accepted a pair of Nikes in place of bail.)

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