How Nike's "Just Do It" Slogan Turned the Brand Into a Household Name

Learn more about the history of Nike's iconic "Just Do It" slogan with this article by the brand's former Director of Marketing Insights & Planning.

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Complex Original

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In the world of fitness, there aren't many slogans quite as recognizable than Nike's "Just Do It." As you may recall, its origin is rather surprising, and today we're learning that the slogan was introduced at a pivotal time for the brand and may have actually saved it from sinking.

According to Nike's former Director of Marketing Insights & Planning, Jerome Conlon, the brand was facing some troubled times ahead of the slogan's introduction. It was the winter of 1987, and Nike was in the midst of the biggest slump in its history. Having just laid off 20 percent of its workers, Nike was in dire need of turning things around. That's when Conlon and Director of Advertising Scott Bedbury stepped in.

Conlon and Bedbury quickly noticed that Nike's tendency to target elite athletes — specifically males involved in competitive sports — was alienating a large portion of its potential customer base. The pair noted that pro and college athletes combined for a total of just one million people, while the "fitness universe" as a whole contained at least 150 times as many. 

With obesity and procrastination becoming growing issues in American society, Conlon and Bedbury realized that there was untapped potential, and approached Nike's famed ad agency Wieden+Kennedy with a new brief.

"We should be proud of our heritage, but we must also realize that the appeal of ‘Hayward Field’ (an ad set at the University of Oregon’s Track & Field Stadium) is narrow and potentially alienating to those who are not great athletes. We need to grow this brand beyond its purest core…we have to stop talking just to ourselves. It’s time to widen the access point," the brief read.

And so they did. From this point, "Just Do It" was born, and over the course of the next decade, Nike's sales increased by one thousand percent. 

To read Conlon's piece in full, head over to Branding Strategy Insider.