Nike's 'Just Do It' Slogan Was Born From a 1977 Execution

Gary Gilmore uttered 'Let's do it' before his death by firing squad
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 5, 2018 1:20 PM CDT
Nike's 'Just Do It' Slogan Was Born From a Death
This image taken from the Twitter account of the former National Football League player Colin Kaepernick shows a Nike advertisement featuring him that was posted Monday, Sept. 3, 2018.   (Twitter via AP)

Amid the reactions—most recently from President Trump and LeBron James—to Colin Kaepernick's new campaign with Nike in honor of its 30-year-old slogan comes an unusual sidebar from the Washington Post on the origins of those three words. As it turns out, "Just Do It" was born from an execution. Really. Dan Wieden of the Wieden+Kennedy agency in Portland, Ore., was in 1988 making a pitch to a still-struggling Nike. He recalled the words uttered by another Portland native, convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, who on Jan. 17, 1977, was executed by firing squad at the Utah State Prison. When the 36-year-old was given the opportunity to make a final statement, he reportedly said "Let's do it." The Post recalls that it reported at the time that "Gilmore did not flinch when he was executed."

Per the Post, Wieden spun a new slogan out of that line, and Nike co-founder Phil Knight was no fan, reportedly describing it as s---. Wieden says he asked them to have faith in his idea, one of the first versions of which was an ad featuring an 80-year-old marathoner. The rest is essentially history, with Nike becoming famed for what a former chief marketing officer with the company describes as "the ultimate statement of intention." It wasn't Wieden+Kennedy's only bold move on behalf of Nike. At the Conversation, marketing professor Alan Bradshaw looks at the "massive success" of the first major TV ad Nike made, which featured a song selected by Wieden+Kennedy: the Beatles' "Revolution." (More Nike stories.)

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