Credit: Ron Barker / Associated Press files

The Creepy Story Behind Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ Slogan

Facing a firing squad, double-murderer Gary Gilmore said “let’s do it” in his final moments.

Credit: Ron Barker / Associated Press files

We’ve all seen the commercials, worn the shoes, or perhaps have heard people saying the slogan out loud, but how many are aware of its origins?

It’s said to be one of the best-known marketing slogans of all time — Nike’s “Just Do It” — and it was actually inspired by the last words of a murderer.

From “Let’s Do It” to “Just Do It”

The slogan came from the mind of Dan Wieden, who was the head of ad-agency Wieden & Kennedy, and he included it as the focal point of a TV commercial in 1988.

Here’s the very first “Just Do It” commercial, which features an 80-year-old man that runs several miles a day — leaving his dentures at home.

As I mentioned earlier, the tagline was inspired by the final words of a double-murderer who was on death row. His name was Gary Gilmore and he killed two people in Utah in 1976.

According to US Supreme Court records, Gilmore robbed and killed a gas station attendant, and then a motel worker. He accidentally shot himself in the hand in the process and fled to his cousin Brenda’s house for medical aid.

She turned him over to the police, though.

Gilmore was sentenced to death in October of 1976 and got sent to the Utah State Prison the same year. Once he reached the end of death row a few months later — January 17, 1977 — he was asked if he had any last words.

He said one thing while staring down the barrels of a five-man firing squad.

He said, “Let’s do it.”

Dan Wieden was familiar with this story and apparently told filmmaker Doug Pray in his 2009 documentary “Art & Copy”, “I like the ‘do it’ part of it.”

“I was trying to write something that would tie it up, so it could speak to women who had just started walking to get in shape, to people who were world-class athletes — and it had the same kind of connection with them,” Wieden said in an interview with the website Dezeen.

Nonetheless, Nike’s sales blew up when the slogan hit the airwaves and it’s been around since 1988. Nearly everyone’s familiar with it, but the story behind the inspiration is just a little odd. Although, in “Art & Copy,” Nike’s former marketing chief Liz Dolan said that Nike tends to avoid sharing the origins of the phrase.

“That was not the version I heard when I arrived at Nike,” she said about Wieden’s inspiration. “I’m sure they didn’t want anyone to really know.”

Matt Sterner

Add comment

Leave a Reply

Follow us

Keep up with all of the wonkiest stories by following us on social media.

%d bloggers like this: