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Just do it may be the most popular advertising slogan of all time. Like Apple’s “Think Different,” it has embedded itself into the popular imagination so much so that it would be almost impossible to think of a world without it.

A lot of people don’t know just how long this ubiquitous phrase has been around. It first debuted in a 1988 TV ad, and has become a staple of pop culture since then.

What is it that made this campaign such a success?

As time passes and the zeitgeist changes, it becomes harder and harder to say what made an ad effective at the time it came out. The “Just Do It” ad is almost 30 years old; a product of a different world, it’s naturally harder to talk about than something more current. At the same time a few basic features stand out:

1. It Gets–And Actually Keeps–Your Attention.

Even with its dated style, this ad is undeniably attention-grabbing. The ad opens with three loud bangs on a drum, followed by a soccer player kicking a ball seemingly AT the viewer. The ad opens almost by punching you, it demands your attention, even if you don’t want to give it. It them holds your attention by doing variation after variation on the same theme… “Just kick it, just bounce it, just bounce it,” etc.

2. It Plays To The Target Audience

Nike knows who its customers are. It’s a target market that’s not defined by age, gender, sexual orientation, or geography, but by a passion. And that passion is for athletics. Nike built its empire by honoring great athletes and great feats of athletics. In the just do it ad, they continue this tradition by showing athletes practising their craft. The message also plays a key role here. In sports movies, commentary and journalism, one of the most common themes is ‘action over hesitation.’ 

This resonates with many athletes on a deep level because one of the challenges of any sport is rising to the occasion and doing things that others would be too scared, too lazy, or too uninspired to do. The ad resonates on a deep level with the people it’s trying to reach. That’s perhaps why Nike’s slogan, which was first introduced in this ad, became such a classic.

3. It Develops A “Hook.”

In music, a “hook” is a catchy passage that is repeated to “catch the ear of the listener.” The same idea can be applied to writing. In  the “Just Do It” ad, the line “Just __________ It” serves as a hook, being repeated in slight variations to keep the viewer intrigued. This helps bring home the brand message and establish the slogan (“just do it!”) as something the viewer will remember for a long, long time to come.

Conclusion

According to most surveys of marketing experts, Nike is one of the most valuable brands in the world. That’s because it has created a powerful identity around a classic slogan. What most people forget about great brands is that they can be built. It’s not luck or clever wording that make “Just Do It” or “Think Different” cultural icons, but the fact that these slogans are part of great campaigns. Nike’s 1988 ad helps show us how exactly these culturally ubiquitous brands are built.