Facts tell, but stories sell. Nike needed to break away from the crowd and so they related to the everyday athlete.

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Stephen Semple:

Hey, it’s Stephen Semple here, and I’m with Dave Young.
And we are starting this episode a little bit differently because it’s a little bit of a different topic.

Dave Young:
I’m over here, confused.

Stephen Semple:
You’re over here confused? Okay.

Dave Young:
Yeah.

Stephen Semple:
So just be yourself.

Dave Young:
I’ll bear with you.

Stephen Semple:
Bear with me.

So if I said to you the words, “Just Do It.” what do you think of?

Dave Young:
Nike.

Stephen Semple:
Right.

Dave Young:
Yeah.

Stephen Semple:
But also, how do you connect with that statement, “Just Do It”?

Dave Young:
How do I connect with it?

Stephen Semple:
Yeah.

Dave Young:
Are you asking me for a personal peek into my own psyche?

Stephen Semple:
Yeah. I’m asking for a personal peek into your own psyche.

Dave Young:
I tend to reject it.

Stephen Semple:
You tend to reject it, okay.

Dave Young:
Not for me.

Stephen Semple:
Not for you, right. Because Dave, are you an athletic guy who jogs on weekends and plays racquetball, and does all that other stuff?

Dave Young:
Gosh, no.

Stephen Semple:
No. I connect with it because I’m that guy, I’m the weekend warrior. I trail run, and hike, and snowboard, and do all that other stuff. And I think that’s important. Keep in mind that great campaigns connect and reject.

Here’s the reason why I wanted to talk about this, because this campaign, Just Do It, this is about building empires. But this is an interesting insight because this really changed how athletic marketing was being done. And if you want to learn the whole Nike story, go back to Episode 41 and give it a listen. It’s fascinating how Nike grew.

But today, Nike and Just Do It are so tied together, that it’s almost hard to imagine that this has not always been the case. In the early days, Nike did not really advertise. They built their business with athletic endorsements.

Dave Young:
Yeah.

Stephen Semple:
They signed a lot of Olympic athletes and runners, and shoe companies would compete for these athletes. This became the way in which you sold athletic gear, which was to sign up athletes.

Dave Young:
There’s going to be a picture of them in Sports Illustrated, and they’re wearing your shoes.

Stephen Semple:
Yeah, they’re wearing your shoes.

Dave Young:
Yeah.

Stephen Semple:
They’re standing with the gold medal around their neck, wearing your shoes.

And in 1984, really exploded this whole endorsement idea because Nike signed Michael Jordan, which was huge. They gave Jordan $2.5 million, which may seem small today, but that was three times what any NBA star had ever received. And this grew so much that by the time 1996 came along, they gave Tiger Woods a five-year $40 million contract. Which at the end of that five years, increased to a $100 million contract when it renewed.

So this had been a big part of the Nike DNA. And even the early ads did not have Just Do It. So Nike was this really innovative company, they did a lot of new technology in terms of making shoes. They are really proud of what they did. And when companies do that, typically, it finds its way into the advertising because they want to share that pride, and they want to educate the consumer on their technology.

And you remember, Nike invented the waffle sole, which was huge. And Nike was really proud of these innovations, and they made great shoes and they wanted to share what they were doing. So in 1982, they decided to start doing national TV ads, and this is what they did. Because it starts off with a caveman doing a bunch of stuff, and then it flips to a bunch of high-tech things.

Audio Clip:

From day one, runners have taken their sport rather seriously. Once things got a little better organized, people started taking notes, analyzing how they ran and how they could run even faster.

Today at Nike, we know even more. We developed one of the most sophisticated sports research labs in the world to let us see in detail the peculiarities of style and the dynamics of foot strike. And at Nike, we are putting that knowledge to work, making shoes that actually help athletes to run faster and safer.

Why do we go to so much trouble? Well, it may be the 20th century and all that, but there are still people out there who run as if their life depended on it.

Stephen Semple:
So Dave, what did you think of that ad?

Dave Young:
A couple of thoughts.

One, I think it probably resonated pretty well with technical runners who really want to get better. And I think it probably resonated really well with, what I would call when we start marketing to personality type, the methodical. So the person that wants a shoe based on things that they’re talking about in that commercial, right? Well-thought-out science, we studied feet, we studied the impact that feet have as they run, and we put this thing together based on that.

I think, the part that isn’t there is the message for the rest of us.

Stephen Semple:
And if you think about the whole reason, even for the athletic endorsements, it’s about aspiration. And not only that, look, the other shoe companies were doing the same thing. They were analyzing foot strikes and doing all that other stuff as well.

Dave Young:
Yeah.

Stephen Semple:
And yes, it definitely had a success. So they ran those styles of campaigns for five or six years. Then in 1988, they hired the legendary Dan Wieden to create a campaign. And again, you can learn more about the origin of this campaign back in the Nike episode.

But here is that first ad. So this is the very first ad for the Just Do It campaign. Again, we’re just going to play the audio on this, but it’s a picture of an old guy running across the Golden Gate Bridge.

Audio Clip:
I run 17 miles every morning.

People ask me how I keep my teeth from chattering in the wintertime. I leave them in my locker.

Stephen Semple:
So there’s a little bit of humor. I love the whole line about him leaving his teeth in the locker. He’s this guy who’s 90 years old, he runs 17 miles a day. It’s got this light music, not like the heavy dramatic music of the other one.

Dave Young:
The first one is, like I said, technical. Probably speaks well to a very technically oriented athlete, a methodically oriented consumer. This one hits you in the feels.

Stephen Semple:
Doesn’t it? Absolutely.

Dave Young:
It’s like, “Damn, maybe I could be that guy. This 80-year-old guy’s running across the Golden Gate Bridge. I don’t even… No. But man, maybe I could.”

Stephen Semple:
And I love how they did just flash the Just Do It on the screen at the end was just, it tied back to it. It was one of those slogans that wasn’t just this slogan tacked on, it actually finished the story. Great ads are about self-identification and aspiration.

Now here’s the interesting thing is, doing the athlete, part, I aspire to be like them, so that was aspirational. But the old guy, I want to be like him. This hit the weekend warrior. And look, Dave, even the earlier one, you were like, “Yeah, that’s not me. Just Do It, doesn’t really touch me.”

Dave Young:
Oh, exactly.

Stephen Semple:
And then you’re like, “Oh, damn.”

Dave Young:
I’ll give you a confession, I’ve always wanted to wear Nike shoes. I’ve never found a pair that’s comfortable on my feet, they just don’t fit me well. I take it personally. They’re telling me that’s not for you, almost like the soup guy on Seinfeld. Not for you. No Nike for you, Dave.

Stephen Semple:
No Nike for you, Dave.

So what I want people to think about is, there’s this temptation. There’s this temptation when creating ads, especially if you’ve got something that you’re a little bit technical, or something as a company you’re very proud of, there’s this temptation to share all of those things with the marketplace. And especially when, as you identified so astutely, it’s going to resonate with part of your customer base. And you’re going to go, “Oh, this is great.” because it resonates with them.

But the problem is, you’ll never build an empire on that. You’ll start to build an empire, but long term, you won’t build an empire because that’s a small part of your marketplace. You then pivot to a campaign that is entertaining and aspirational, and all of a sudden, you’ve got everyone going. You’ve got a person who sits on their… who’s not the weekend warrior wanting your shoes. And next thing you know, you’re doing billions. Billions. And you haven’t turned off the methodical either, because they’re like, “Damn.” as well.

Dave Young:

They’re going to know that if this didn’t do what it says, those pros wouldn’t be wearing them, right? They would not do it.

Stephen Semple:
Yes.

Dave Young:
Man, I’m trying to think of, if it was Sam Walton that said this, or if it’s just something that we’ve sort of attributed to the notion of Walmart. But it’s, “Sell to the classes and live with the masses.”

Stephen Semple:
Yes.

Dave Young:
Or, “Sell to the masses and live with the classes.” And so, to flip this on its head and say, “Hey, we need to make this just aspirational and something that everybody sees themselves being able to wear.” As opposed to, “Hey, we’re the shoe for the elite athlete.”

Stephen Semple:
And Nike’s done this because they signed Tiger Woods after they started the Just Do It campaign. You could run these two in parallel because they’re both inspirational, aspirational messages.

So what I want people to think about is, don’t educate your consumers and tell them all the great things. Inspire them. Just Do It captures what the weekend warrior aspires to be. It is that strong inspirational campaign, as you said, Dave, that has you living with the classes.

Dave Young:
The audience of people with feet is way bigger than the audience of elite athletes with feet. And if they fit my feet and I wore them, who knows? Maybe Just Do It might inspire me to put a little skip in my step as I walk.

Stephen Semple:
We might see you on the Golden Gate Bridge yet.

Dave Young:
Maybe I’d walk a little faster. Maybe.

Stephen Semple:
So what I wanted to share with people was this, because I was so surprised, and it has sat with me ever since we did the Nike episode. Because when I was researching the episode, I came across these early advertisements and I went, “Wow. The feeling when they did the Just Do It was so different and so much more powerful.”

I wanted to find a way to come back and re-explore this campaign, because I think there are some really strong lessons there for how you want to build your empire and attract new customers. And it’s really always about, try to be that inspirational, aspirational message that speaks to a tribe.

Dave Young:
I think there’s truth in being inspirational, aspirational, or just downright entertaining.

Stephen Semple:
Yep, absolutely.

Dave Young:
Those are just subcategories of entertainment, right? There are some movies we watch because we want to be inspired.

Stephen Semple:
Yes.

Dave Young:
There are stories we read because we want to be inspired. And there are other stories we watch and read because, man, we just want a good laugh.

Stephen Semple:
Yep.

Dave Young:
Either kind of campaign. Because they’re based on positive emotion, and they’re always going to outperform the ones that are just based on facts and educate the public. Nobody wants to be educated.

Stephen Semple:
And frankly, hard to gather an audience on those things. That’s sort of what I wanted to share with people today.

Dave Young:
I love it.

Stephen Semple:
There you go. Thanks, David.

Dave Young:
Thank you.

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