The Backstory of Nike's Famous Slogan

The Backstory of Nike's Famous Slogan

Updated Oct 6, 2019

“Just Do It” is one of the most popular and recognizable slogans of the past 50 years. It’s incredibly simple and effective and is considered a major success in the world of creative advertising. Inspiration for such achievements can come from many places, as the story behind this one proves.

In 1988, Dan Wieden of Wieden+Kennedy was trying to come up with a campaign slogan for Nike. Somewhere along the line, Dan reminisced about a man named Gary Gilmore.

Gilmore was a criminal who, in July 1976, robbed and murdered two people on back-to-back nights in Utah. He was arrested soon after and admitted to the murder of both victims, though due to a lack of evidence in the first murder, he was only brought to trial for the second. That October, he was found guilty and given the death penalty.

Gilmore’s mom and the ACLU both fought against the death penalty ruling even though Gilmore had already accepted the outcome and didn’t want anyone intervening. Ultimately, the mother and ACLU failed after multiple attempts to prevent the execution from occurring.

On January 17, 1977, Gilmore faced the firing squad. Asked if he had any last words, Gilmore replied: Let’s Do It.

From Dan Wieden himself:

And for some reason 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?” So I thought, well, I didn’t like “Let’s do it” so I just changed it to “Just do it.”

The slogan was presented to the folks at Nike—minus the backstory of its inspiration—who were initially reluctant, but ultimately agreed. Soon after, “Just do it” was placed in Nike ads and became the iconic slogan we still recognize almost 30 years later.