Five of Wieden+Kennedy’s Greatest Nike Ads
The passing of Dan Wieden, one half of advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy, has left behind a far-reaching legacy that has invigorated the creative marketing world since their founding in 1982. While W+K reached multiple cultural touchpoints, some of their most memorable work was with Nike, transforming the once relatively small sportswear manufacturer into one of the world’s biggest brands. In honour of W+K’s contribution to the ad world, here are five of their greatest Swoosh spots.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Tennis
Andre Agassi was the poster boy for tennis in the early 1990s. Capitalising on the rebellious streak started by predecessor John McEnroe, W+K and Nike complemented Agassi’s charismatic energy (and big hair) by pairing him up with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in the ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Tennis’ TV spot. It spawned the tagline ‘Hit the ball as loud as you can’ – a strategy that delivered a few Grand Slam victories during that era.
Former W+K creative director and Advertising Hall of Fame inductee Jim Roswold is responsible for conceiving the ‘Bo Knows’ campaign that played on Bo Jackson’s multi-faceted sporting talent. While Bo excelled chiefly in baseball and football, these ads extended his skills to everything from golf and cycling to horse racing – all thanks to the Air Trainer SCs he had on foot. It’s still one of the agency’s most memorable Nike commercials.
Just Do It
When you think of Nike, you think of ‘Just Do It’! The iconic slogan was created in 1987 by none other than the late Dan Wieden. Accompanying the sportswear brand’s first major campaign across television, a slew of commercials featuring a range of sports all ended with ‘Just Do It’. According to sneaker lore, Wieden’s inspiration came from murderer Gary Gilmore, whose last words when getting the death penalty were ’Let’s do it’.
While ‘Just Do It’ is now thirty-five years old, Nike continues to use the tagline today.
It’s Gotta Be The Shoes
Mars Blackmon was a fictional character created and played by Spike Lee in the 1986 film She’s Gotta Have It. At the beginning of 1987, Blackmon had already started as a Jordan Brand ambassador. In 1990, Wieden+Kennedy made the decision that he should be front and centre, releasing a massive campaign of black and white commercials. The most legendary was titled ‘It’s Gotta Be The Shoes’ for the Air Jordan 5. In 2022, for their 50th anniversary, Nike once again recruited Blackmon for their ‘Seen it All’ commercial.
Kicking off in 1993, Nike wanted to stir some hype around Penny Hardaway, the rising star who had just been drafted to Orlando Magic. Enlisting the help of Weiden+Kennedy once again, the then-creative director Stacy Wall came up with the concept of Lil’ Penny. A puppet voiced by Chris Rock that took pop culture by storm – even getting an appearance on Oprah! Now an iconic part of the basketball and sneaker universes, Social Status recently included the figure in their Air Penny 2 colab.