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Dan Wieden, the advertising legend behind the 'Just Do It' Nike Slogan, dies at 77

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Last week, the marketing and advertising world lost a titan of the industry. Dan Wieden, co-founder of the advertising firm Wieden+Kennedy, died on Friday at the age of 77.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Through his career, he worked on hugely successful marketing campaigns for companies including Old Spice, Procter & Gamble, and Coca-Cola. Wieden's biggest claim to fame, though, came in 1988 when he created a slogan for his firm's first client, Nike.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) So what do you want to do?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) What do you mean?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) I like to feel hyper.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #4: (As character) Do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #5: (As character) I'm thinking of being a lawyer.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #6: (As character) Just do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUMMERS: Wieden's "Just Do It" arguably became as well known as Nike's swoosh. Less well known, though, is how that slogan came to be. In an interview, Wieden said he was inspired by the story of a death row inmate's final words.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAN WIEDEN: And the firing squad was there. And before they put the sack over his head, they asked him if he had any last words, and he said, you know, let's do it. I remember when I read that, I was like, that's amazing. I mean, how do you, in the face of that much uncertainty, do you push through that? And so I didn't like the let's thing. You know, I just changed that because otherwise I'd have to give him credit. Now I don't really have to, so...

SUMMERS: Despite its grisly origin, the slogan helped launch the Wieden+Kennedy advertising firm to global success.

KELLY: But even with the firm's rapid growth, Wieden was known for his grounded, humble mindset.

NATALIE WELCH: It really was kind of this just this humbleness and this idea that there wasn't, like, a hierarchy of like - it was - it didn't feel like there were barriers between the different levels.

KELLY: Natalie Welch - she worked at Wieden+Kennedy for five years. She said in a primarily white, male-dominated industry, Wieden+Kennedy's early emphasis on diversity and inclusion helped foster creativity.

WELCH: This was before me, too, and all that, too. And like you said, it just felt like there was really commitment to diversity and to, like, just, you know, come here, be yourself. And that's, like, what you kind of just felt every time you walked into the building.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WIEDEN: Our shop was doing its best when we were like a car full of kids going around a corner so fast that if we all didn't lean to one side, the thing was going to tip over. And there's something about that unpredictability, but a sense of camaraderie that I really love.

SUMMERS: Dan Wieden, co-founder of Wieden+Kennedy and creator of Nike's "Just Do It" slogan, died Friday at 77.

(SOUNDBITE OF AD)

UNIDENTIFIED RAPPERS: (Rapping) It's miraculous, marvelous, supremely fitting. When we sport Nike, we know that we're winning. To cheer, act crazy and stroll the ave - now with the beat, kind of shoe would you like to have? Myself, I'm Nike. Nike's hype. I think I said the word. What, Nike? That's right.

KELLY: In his honor, I'm just going to do it and tell you this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Levitt
Michael Levitt is a news assistant for All Things Considered who is based in Atlanta, Georgia. He graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science. Before coming to NPR, Levitt worked in the solar energy industry and for the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, D.C. He has also travelled extensively in the Middle East and speaks Arabic.
Justine Kenin
Justine Kenin is an editor on All Things Considered. She joined NPR in 1999 as an intern. Nothing makes her happier than getting a book in the right reader's hands – most especially her own.