Nike Turned Death Row Into Millions

A couple of days ago, I was in bed watching a Vice documentary about death row inmates’ last meals and final words. I know, a little crude. You’d be lying if you say you’ve never had any interest in the lives of some of the most famous serial killers like Ted Bundy though.  

I was just barely paying attention when I heard the voiceover say “Nike.” Of course, in my mind, I was wondering how the heck the brand could have anything to do with serial killers. I replayed the video and that’s when I learned that the slogan has a far darker past than I think any of us were aware of.  

Nike has the slogan “Just Do It,” plastered everywhere and it is one of the reasons for their success today. This success, however, is in part thanks to serial killer Gary Gilmore’s last words “let’s do it.” Yep, Nike stole a dead man’s last words.  

The idea was arranged in 1988 during a meeting with Nike’s advertising agency at the time. Dan Wieden, a member of Nike’s advertising team, found the phrase as an ultimate statement of intention and as a potential route to greatness. Not surprisingly, everyone hated the idea (The Washington Post).  

He told the team to just trust him on this one and, turns out, taking inspiration from Gary Gilmore was the best thing to happen to Nike. 

By simply changing one word, Nike was able to build a brand that took over 43% of domestic shoe sales in a matter of 10 years due to the slogan campaign.  

The slogan was introduced in a TV ad in 1988 and ever since then, it has been one of the most successful slogan campaigns in the world. Today, Nike dominates the clothing world as they sell more than just shoes and have since begun making clothing and merchandise.  

Now, almost every consumer knows that the “Just Do It” slogan is part of the Nike brand due to their impressive ability to market something so simple and make it huge. Their continual use of hashtags, influencer marketing, and celebrity endorsements brings them in more than $37 billion annually (macrotrends).  

The arrangement of a lot of brands’ slogans has beginnings that you probably didn’t know either. You know Allstate’s “You’re in good hands?” It was coined from a phrase similar to one of the executive’s common sayings to reassure his wife when taking the kids to the doctor (Adobe).  

If we can learn anything from Nike, you should just steal a death row inmate’s last words and you’ll instantly become millionaires. Heck, maybe your success will come from George Appel’s last words, “well, gentlemen, you are about to see a baked Appel.”  

Okay, maybe we just learned that with strong marketing and advertising skills, you can take something grim and turn it into something grand. The world is your oyster in the industry of advertising. 

Courtland Bartosik

Marketing Intern

Courtland is a freshman at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pursing a degree in Media and Journalism with a minor in Data Science.