When Murder Inspires Marketing

May 7, 2018

Good ideas can come from anywhere.

Case in point: Many people don’t realize that one of the most famous marketing slogans of all time was inspired by the last words of a murderer.

Thirty years ago this year, Dan Wieden was up late the night before his firm, Wieden+Kennedy, were set to present five new TV ads to Nike. Each ad had a different creative team behind it and different tone. Wieden was searching for a tagline to bring consistency to the five ads.

He started jotting down ideas. In the depths of the creative process, for some reason his mind drifted to convicted murderer Gary Gilmore. Gilmore became a household name after Norman Mailer wrote “The Executioner’s Song” about him and Tommy Lee Jones played him in a movie of the same name.

After killing two people in Utah, Gilmore was executed by firing squad in 1977. When asked if he had any last words, he simply replied “Let’s do it.”

With a slight tweak from Wieden, a wildly successful slogan was born – “Just do it.”

Wieden has said he hates slogans and thinks they’re old fashioned. But there’s no denying “Just do it” was a key element in Nike’s marketing push to expand its customer base beyond professional and college athletes to all fitness consumers.

Wieden, of course, sums it up well – “I was trying to tie it up so it’d speak to women who had just started walking to get in shape or to world class athletes.”

“Just do it” captures that moment of athletic inspiration. It’s  easy for people to see themselves in the phrase, whether they’re rallying to finish a marathon or stick it out another five minutes on the treadmill.

Long story short: The best marketing campaigns don’t create something brand new. They capture a familiar feeling in a new or compelling way that your customers can relate to.

This article also appeared in our weekly newsletter, Long Story Short. It was written by Alex Irwin.

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