Anyone who has ever walked into a class to be met by one of the legends of their industry raise your hand. Last week we were greeted by the smiling face of Dan Wieden, of Wieden + Kennedy. This is the guy whose agency pretty much built Nike. All of that great Nike work that has been done over the years has come across this mans desk on its way to your eyeballs. We had a really informal question and answer session with him, and along the way the story of how the legendary "Just Do It" tagline came about was revealed.
Apparently it was nearing time to present some new work to the client, and they still didn't have an endline. It was then that two incredibly different people impacted advertising history without even knowing it.
There was a man executed by firing squad in Utah in 1977 by the name of Gary Gilmore. Gilmore murdered two people, and then impacted advertising history when asked if he had any last words. He responded with "let's do it." So one of the most recognized taglines ever could have been "let's do it."
Luckily for Nike, Nancy Reagan was telling kids to "just say no." The first lady's message was merged with the last words of a double-murderer and then Nike made a lot of money and high school football teams were motivated and fraternity event t-shirts were made.
Last Thursday I packed my iPod and met up with my friend Paul to take the Hokie bus down to Blacksburg, Virginia to watch Virginia Tech dismantle the mighty Eagles of Boston College. Watching a couple hundred people with nothing in common besides where they went to college meet in a park and ride lot to fill four buses for a four hour trek is an interesting thing. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who didn't attend a football school last month. She just didn't have a way to relate to the fanaticism that college football fans display week in and week out all season long.
College football is a curious thing. It can easily creep its way under the skin of even the most resistant to sports. After spending four years at Tech, I can assure you that there are no words to describe the site of women and hippies screaming at the top of their lungs at a football game. Girls who never watched a minute of professional sports in their pre-college life graduate with more than a degree, they transform into creatures of sport, fanatics who will stop at nothing to see their favorite team win a game, statistical guru's capable of delivering accurate predictions as to a games outcome. They transform into the best of sports fans. Then there's the little things that you wouldn't think of. When I was recently buying a bag, I defaulted to customizing it to be orange and maroon for Virginia Tech. I caught myself before I bought it, but it was kind of frightening to see the extent to which I've been programmed. Then there are rivalries. As a Virginia Tech grad and supporter, I can never, ever buy anything that comes in the combination of orange and blue. I like the colors just fine, but so do a few hundred thousand University of Virginia fans, thereby making that color combo off limits for life.
What is it that makes it so powerful? How do people become so passionate about a sports team that they will cry after a devastating loss or get in a fistfight with an opposing fan for insulting "his" team. Is it that the U.S. is so large that we need more localized affiliations to satisfy our nationalistic urges? In modern times, every person can have a personal army to do battle for bragging rights and amusement; a luxury afforded only to nobility in times gone by.
Well whatever. The game was a blast. We all got housed beforehand, spent a few hours with good friends screaming at the top of our lungs, and watched Tech win 30 to 10. We all slept with smiles on our faces on the bus ride home. Smiles that those who didn't attend football schools will never understand.