Man behind Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan has died

Idea for tagline came from convicted murderer’s last words before firing squad

Graeme Massie
Los Angeles
Wednesday 13 October 2021 23:10
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<p>David Kennedy</p>

David Kennedy

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The man behind Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan has died at the age of 82.

David Kennedy, the co-founder of Portland-based Wieden+Kennedy, came up with the tagline with partner Dan Wieden to accompany Nike’s first major television campaign in 1988.

Mr Wieden admitted in the 2009 advertising documentary Art & Copy that their idea came from the last words of convicted murderer Gary Gilmore, who said “Let’s do it” to his firing squad before his execution.

Since the agency opened in 1982 it has grown to eight offices in Portland, New York, Amsterdam, Tokyo, London, Shanghai, Delhi and Sao Paulo and now has 1,400 employees.

Wieden+Kennedy’s chairman, Tom Blessington, called Mr Kennedy “the most unassuming icon” and said that he had “all of the talent and none of the ego”.

“The agency reflected both of their self-effacing, authentic, genuine humility,” Mr Blessington told Forbes.

“These were not showmen, and I think that’s one of the reasons they took pride in being off of Broadway, off of Madison Avenue.”

Mr Kennedy took early retirement in 1995 at the age of 54, but continued to work part-time on campaigns until his death.

His final advertisement, for the American Indian College Fund, was published in The New York Times on Monday for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The company landed Oregon-based Nike, then just a fledgling shoe start-up, as its first client in 1982, and quickly connected with Nike co-founder Phil Knight.

“Lots of people say Nike is successful because our ad agency is so good,” Mr Knight told the Harvard Business Review in 1992.

“But isn’t it funny that the agency had been around for 20 years and nobody had ever heard of it? It’s not just that they’re creative. What makes Wieden & Kennedy successful with Nike is that they take the time to grind it out.

“They spend countless hours trying to figure out what the product is, what the message is, what the theme is, what the athletes are all about, what emotion is involved.”

Mr Kennedy also came up with the documentary-style 1985 TV advert for Honda scooters that featured musician Lou Reed in New York set to Take A Walk On The Wild Side.

No cause of death was released.

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