Dan Wieden, ad executive who coined Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan, dead at 77

PORTLAND, Ore. — Dan Wieden, an Oregon advertising executive who coined Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan, died Friday at his Portland home. He was 77.

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Wieden formed Wieden+Kennedy with David Kennedy on April 1, 1982, in Portland, KOIN-TV reported.

The company was best known for its work on the Nike account and its iconic slogan, “Just Do It.”

Karl Lieberman, the agency’s current chief creative officer, compared Wieden to Lorne Michaels, the creative force behind “Saturday Night Live.” The cast changed, but the ad agency remained relevant, Lieberman told The Oregonian.

Kennedy died last year at the age of 82.

“The reason it lasted so long was that he didn’t build an ad agency, he built a culture,” Lieberman told the newspaper. “Curious, driven, welcoming and lacking deference … it’s a place that in a lot of ways reflects him.”

The turning point for the agency came in 1985, with a spot for Honda Elite scooters starring Lou Reed.

Nike liked the New Wave slant of the ad and switched all of its business to Wieden, Willamette Week reported. In 1988, Wieden crafted the three-word slogan for an Air Jordan campaign that would become synonymous with Nike, according to the newspaper.

Nike and the ad agency would also collaborate on some of the top campaigns that resonated with consumers, whether they were sports fans or just casual observers. That included the “Bo Knows” spots with Bo Jackson, Charles Barkley claiming he was not a role model, and Colin Kaepernick showing why he was one, Willamette Week reported.

Since it adopted the slogan, Nike’s annual sales have increased from $877 million to about $46 billion, The Oregonian reported.

Kerry Tymchuk, director of the Oregon Historical Society, said Wieden + Kennedy was very important for Portland.

“Just as companies like Nike and Columbia made Portland ground zero for the sports apparel industry, Dan Wieden and Wieden + Kennedy made it ground zero for the creative industry,” Tymchuk told KOIN. “Other advertising firsts, other marketing firms kept coming to Oregon because they got their start at Wieden+Kennedy or were attracted here to what Wieden+Kennedy was doing.”

Wieden was born in Portland on March 6, 1945, according to The Oregonian. He attended Grant High School and graduated in 1967 from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism.

“We are heartbroken,” Wieden+Kennedy said in a statement. “But even more so, we are overcome with gratitude and love. Thank you Dan, for throwing the doors wide open for people to live up to their full potential. Thank you for your steadfastness, courage, faith and abiding love. Thank you for making this beautiful creative life possible. We will miss you so much.”

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