“Ads as Stories” is a series devoted to analyzing different advertising campaigns as acts of storytelling, and breaking down the narrative being told.

Nike was originally founded in 1964 by competitive runner, Phil Knight, and his college coach, Bill Bowerman, as Blue Ribbon Sports. However, in 1971, the company became Nike, Inc. While the company’s trademark “swoosh” had been around since the beginning, the slogan back then was “There is no finish line.” It took almost two decades for that to change, and the most famous slogan in the history of advertising to come about: Just Do It.

Where did it come from?

In the 1980’s, Nike was getting beaten on all fronts by their biggest competitor, Reebok. They direly needed a way to solidify their brand, and reach to further markets in order to grow sales. Ad man Dan Wieden of the agency, Wieden+Kennedy, eventually became inspired by the last words of renowned serial killer Gary Gilmore, right before the firing squad took aim. While the words “Just Do It” might have a morbid beginning, Wieden took it and made something that resonated with people. Nike wanted to sell shoes to everyone, not just the athletic crowd like Reebok. This slogan took them there.

The story

Soon after they began pushing the new slogan, Nike became a fashion statement. The words “Just Do It” tell a story of their own that inspires the audience. Those three syllables create a simple, but powerful call to action that places the emphasis on the customer to accomplish anything that they desire to. Nike is just a facilitator of these dreams, according to this story.

Nike eventually became the every-man shoe that they had desired to be. Their sales soared far past Reebok, taking them from just an athletic shoe company, and into a world staple for something bigger. This kind of universality came about because the slogan effectively made the act of buying Nike shoes about the audience, and not about the company. It turned a brand into a personal story, one of human resilience. Any company today would pay everything they could to do that, but never has it been so effective as Nike’s famous adage.


In just a decade, Nike’s sales increased from $877 million to $9.2 billion, a growth of almost 1000%. To this day, “Just Do It” is still Nike’s slogan. In fact, it is the longest lasting major slogan around today. Those three simple words created the first shoe super brand, and changed the world forever. That’s the power of storytelling, and why all great advertising must use it.