The Murderer Behind Nike’s Most Successful Ad Campaign

Various sources can influence marketing campaigns, from the latest fashion trends to popular culture. But it’s not every day that a murderer inspires a major brand’s most successful marketing campaign.

In this blog post, we’ll delve into the fascinating story of how Nike’s iconic “Just Do It” slogan was born, inspired by an unlikely source – a murderer on death row.

The Origin of Nike’s “Just Do It” Slogan

Before we dive into the story of how a murderer inspired Nike’s most successful marketing campaign, it is essential to understand the origin of the famous “Just Do It” slogan. In 1988, Nike was looking for a powerful tagline to unify and strengthen their brand image. They turned to the advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy to create a campaign that would resonate with their target audience.

Dan Wieden, the co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy, was responsible for coming up with Nike’s new tagline. He found inspiration in an unexpected place – the last words of Gary Gilmore, a convicted murderer who was executed in Utah in 1977.

Who Was Gary Gilmore?

Gary Gilmore, born on December 4, 1940, in McCamey, Texas, was an American criminal who gained notoriety for his crimes and his insistence on being executed for them. Raised in a tumultuous household, he had a troubled upbringing marked by physical and emotional abuse. This difficult childhood led him to a life of crime, and he spent much of his adolescence and adulthood in and out of detention centers and prisons.

Gilmore’s Crimes

On July 19, 1976, Gilmore committed two cold-blooded murders in two consecutive days. His first victim was Max Jensen, a gas station attendant in Orem, Utah, who was shot to death during a robbery. The following day, Gilmore shot and killed Bennie Bushnell, a motel manager in Provo, during another robbery attempt.

Gilmore’s arrest and trial garnered national attention, partly due to the brutality of his crimes and partly because of his unrepentant demeanor. He was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.

What made Gilmore’s case stand out was his demand to be executed quickly, refusing to appeal his sentence or seek a commutation. At that time, there had been a ten-year moratorium on the death penalty in the United States, and Gilmore’s insistence on his execution reignited the debate over capital punishment.

Gilmore’s Execution

On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed by a firing squad at Utah State Prison, becoming the first person to be executed in the United States since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. His final words were, “Let’s do it.”

The Birth of a Legendary Marketing Campaign

Dan Wieden recognized the power and conviction behind Gary Gilmore’s final words. He adapted the phrase for Nike’s new campaign, ultimately settling on the slogan, “Just Do It.” The concise and direct nature of the phrase perfectly encapsulated the brand’s message: empowering individuals to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, no matter the challenge.

With the new tagline in place, Nike launched a series of advertisements featuring athletes from various sports, emphasizing the “Just Do It” mentality. The campaign was an instant hit, resonating with people across different backgrounds and becoming a rallying cry for personal achievement and perseverance.

The Impact of “Just Do It” on Nike’s Success

The “Just Do It” marketing campaign proved to be a game-changer for Nike. It helped unify the brand’s messaging and contributed to the company’s rapid growth and success in the following years. The campaign’s immense popularity helped Nike solidify its position as a leading sportswear brand, competing with giants like Adidas and Reebok.

Some key factors that contributed to the success of the “Just Do It” marketing campaign include:


The slogan transcended the world of sports, resonating with people from all walks of life. It encouraged individuals to take action, be it in sports, fitness, or personal growth.

Emotional connection

The “Just Do It” campaign tapped into the emotions of determination, courage, and self-belief, creating a powerful connection with the audience and fostering brand loyalty.

Endorsements from Top Athletes

Nike featured renowned athletes like Michael Jordan, Serena Williams, and Tiger Woods in their ads, further solidifying the brand’s association with greatness and success.


Nike maintained the “Just Do It” slogan for over three decades, ensuring brand consistency and reinforcing the message in the minds of consumers.

Cultural Impact

The phrase became ingrained in popular culture, with people using it as a mantra to motivate themselves and others in various aspects of life. One such example can be found in actor Shia LaBeouf’s viral motivational video.

The “Just Do It” marketing campaign helped Nike’s sales skyrocket from $877 million in 1988 to more than $9 billion by the end of the 90s. The slogan became synonymous with the brand, and the iconic swoosh logo became a symbol of athletic achievement and personal triumph.

Key Takeaways

The story of how a murderer’s final words inspired Nike’s most successful marketing campaign is a testament to the power of creativity and the ability to find inspiration in the most unlikely places. The “Just Do It” slogan has become a cultural phenomenon, transcending the world of sports and resonating with people across the globe.

This legendary marketing campaign transformed Nike into a dominant force in the sportswear industry, proving that a simple, powerful message can leave a lasting impact on a brand and its audience. Aspiring marketers and creatives can learn from the story of “Just Do It” – sometimes, all it takes is a spark of inspiration to create a legacy that stands the test of time.

To learn more about powerful marketing campaigns and how you can use their example to bolster your own business, reach out to me today!