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  • The Surprising Story Behind Nike’s “Just Do It” Slogan You Didn’t Know

Slogans and taglines are a common tool that many businesses use in their marketing.

These short catchphrases are powerful because they build brand awareness and make products seem more appealing to customers.

But did you know that some taglines and slogans are inspired from strange and unexpected circumstances?

Hello, Pop Jots fans and followers.

In this video, we’re going to discuss the shocking and disturbing story behind how Nike got its “Just Do It” slogan. 

But first, if you’re new to this channel, welcome! I’m so happy you’re here.

On this channel, we discuss all things related to marketing, advertising, and public relations.

If this sounds interesting to you, then please to subscribe to my channel now, and click the bell icon to be notified when my next video goes live.

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Let’s get started with a quick disclaimer.

Just so you know, Pop Jots does not condone or encourage violence of any kind. Violence is always wrong.

However, for the sake of this video's historical and educational purposes, I need to give a brief backstory that describes a violent act that someone once committed.

This contextual information is necessary for this entire video to make sense.

Next, please do not make any purchase decisions based on anything you see or hear in this video.

This video is not designed to provide any kind of purchasing advice for any company's products or services.

This video is for entertainment purposes only and does not in any way reflect anyone’s feelings toward or against the Nike company or its partners.

With these disclaimers out of the way, let's move on.

Part 1: The Shocking and Disturbing Event That Started It All

You may not believe this, but Nike's famous "Just Do It" Slogan was inspired by the final words of a death row murderer.

Our story starts with a man named Gary Gilmore, who was born in McCamey, Texas, and grew up mainly in Portland, Oregon.

When Gilmore was 14, he began a life of petty crime after stealing someone's car. And as he got older, Gilmore's crimes only escalated in seriousness, causing him to be arrested and imprisoned multiple times.

Some of the known crimes that Gilmore committed before he turned 30 included:



Driving without a license

Armed robbery

And assault

On April 9, 1976, at 36 years old, Gilmore was set free on a conditional release after spending 22 years in and out of prison.

After being released, he immediately moved to Provo, Utah, to stay with his cousin, Brenda Nicol.

However, it didn't take long for Gilmore to turn back to his old life of crime.

Just a few months after moving to Provo, on July 19, 1976, Gilmore robbed a gas station in Orem, Utah, where he killed an attendant named Max Jensen.

Twenty-four hours later, on July 20, 1976, Gilmore walked into a motel in Provo, Utah, where he stole the cashbox and shot the manager. This victim's name was Ben Bushnell.

Shortly after this second crime, Gilmore called his cousin, Brenda Nicol, for help, and she promptly reported him to the police.

Police arrested him a short time later near the edge of town.

Finally, after a 6-month trial, on January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore received the death penalty for his crimes by firing squad. His final words to his executioners were, "Let's do it."

Part 2: Overcoming Financial Difficulties and Crushing The Competition 

Ten years after Gary Gillmore's execution, in 1987 and 1988, Nike was facing some financial challenges.

At the time, Nike's sales had recently dropped by 18%, and its stock price had plummeted 40%, down to $0.93 per share.

These drastic drops in sales and market share occurred because the United States was going through a fitness craze, and Reebok took advantage of this opportunity before Nike did.

In other words, Nike couldn't keep up with its competitors and needed to change its strategy quickly to stay in business.

As part of their strategy to turn things around, Nike's executives asked a Portland, Oregon, advertising company called Wieden & Kennedy for help.

One of the owners of this company was an advertising executive named Dan Wieden, who had already worked with Nike on various advertising campaigns for many years.

As he researched ways to help Nike stand out more, Dan Weiden decided that Nike needed a new slogan.

This slogan's purpose was to help tie all of Nike's ad campaigns together so Nike could connect with more people.

As Dan Weiden considered writing Nike's new slogan, he recalled how he had previously heard the story of Gary Gilmore's crimes and execution.

What struck Weiden most about this story was the power and intention behind Gilmore's final words, "Let's Do It."

Here’s what he said in his own words.

"I like the "do it" part of it," said Weiden in a documentary film called Art & Copy. "None of us really paid that much attention. We thought, 'Yeah. That'd work.'"

And with that inspiration In mind, Dan Weiden tweaked Gilmore's final words, "Let's Do It," to say "Just Do It."

Nike then debuted its new slogan in a 1988 commercial about an 80-year-old marathon runner named Walt Stack.

So, how did this simple slogan impact Nike's future success or failure?

Part 3: How Three Little Words Transformed Nike's Brand Forever

Shortly after Nike premiered the "Just Do It" slogan in its 1988 commercial, Nike's fame and success exploded.

Many people started sending Nike letters about how the words "Just Do It" had inspired them to become better.

On the one hand, the phrase "Just Do It" inspired many pro athletes to improve their sports skills.

On the other hand, this slogan inspired many unhealthy people to develop healthier habits.

There were even people who used the slogan “Just Do It” as motivation for leaving toxic relationships or improving their careers.

Somehow the slogan "Just Do It" resonated emotionally with multiple consumers and made them feel inspired to be bolder and to try harder.

Soon, the "Just Do It" slogan became so popular with consumers that it helped Nike overtake its competitor, Reebok, in the sports clothing marketplace.

This event occurred only a few years after this slogan premiered.

And to make things even crazier, the "Just Do It" slogan also had a massive impact on Nike's sales.

For example, in the first ten years after this slogan debuted, Nike increased its share of the sports shoe marketplace from 18% to 43%.

This market share increase caused Nike's global sales to grow from $877 million annually to $9.2 billion annually between 1988 and 1998.

So, how much is the "Just Do It" slogan affecting Nike's brand now?

Well, today, "Just Do It" is one of the most iconic slogans of all time.

These three simple yet memorable words have:

Inspired many people to reach their goals and improve their dreams

Drastically changed how consumers perceive and respond to Nike’s image

And made Nike one of the most recognized juggernaut brands in the sports world today

This phenomenal success of Nike's "Just Do It" slogan since the 1980s begs an interesting question.

Where would the Nike company be today if Dan Weiden hadn’t used Gary Gilmore’s final words as inspiration for his slogan?

Would Nike's brand still be as iconic today if the “Just Do It” slogan never existed?

My guess is, probably not.


So, there you have it.

In this video, we've discussed the shocking and disturbing secret behind how Nike's iconic "Just Do It" slogan came into existence.

If you like this video and want more marketing and advertising content just like this, please subscribe to my YouTube channel now.

What marketing topic should I discuss next? Let me know in the comments below.  

Finally, if you’d like help writing a marketing or advertising message for your brand, head over to www.popjots.com/contact and pick a time to meet with me on my calendar.

You can also reach Pop Jots by calling 855-767-5687 or email us at [email protected].

Thanks for watching!

About the Author

Jason Starr is a strategic and creative communications expert who has been working in video production, social media, and advertising since 2014.

During his career, Jason has used his video production skills to help over 20 youtube channels collectively reach billions of views and millions of subscribers from scratch. He has also used his copywriting abilities to help over 30 brands collectively earn hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue. 

Jason has a Bachelor’s in Media Arts, a Master of Science in Communication, and professional certifications in Digital Marketing and Copywriting. Jason loves helping other businesses grow their brands. 


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