Nike Knows “Why”

The-Brand-Brief-For-Nikes-Just-Do-It-CampaignNike knows it’s “Why” and you should, too.

I want to share my key takeaways from and article I read recently by Jerome Conlon at Branding Strategy Insider about how Nike developed their iconic Just Do It campaign. Jerome was Nike’s Director of Marketing Insights & Planning at the time and his first hand insight demonstrates a beautiful example of cause marketing. Just Do It is “a brand campaign that tapped deeply into the authentic character of Nike’s brand values and brand purpose.”

Lagging Sales

boAt the time, Nike’s sales were lagging for the first time and they’d laid off 20% of their workforce. Why? Largely because their brand’s focus until that point had been elite athletes in hyper-competitive sports. They were speaking to a narrow audience. To survive, Nike needed to become relevant to a broader audience to compete against growing competition and rival Reebok’s invention of aerobic shoes that appealed to a broader audience of women fitness-enthusiasts.

Social Crisis

mcdIn the late 1980’s, changes in the American diet had begun to cause a rise in obesity. This issue was exacerbated by an economic recession that had forced many schools to cut athletic programs, poor nutritional advice from experts (no fat, more carbs!), and a rise in the amount of time spent in sedentary activities like watching tv. Obesity and procrastination were (and still are) major problems for the majority of the US population.


“Nike at this point in time had an opportunity to become the protagonist of all that was great and uplifting about the experience of sports and fitness.” They needed to find the intersection of social problem, unmet consumer need, and the brand’s core reason for existence. Finding that intersection would allow them to increase their audience reach, build brand loyalty, and combat a social crisis.


Daily participation in sports and fitness gives people…an experience and feeling of joy, a runners high, a lightness of being…These are the positive human emotions…This inner joy experience was real and all that Nike had to do…was figure out a way to tap into this spirit and become a protagonist for all that was good and true about it.

Solving Problems for Mutual Benefit

shoelacesThis, my friends, is the epitome of cause marketing. Creating social change and business growth by solving problems – by finding the place where social problems, unmet consumer needs, and the reason for your brand’s existence intersect.

Nike was struggling in the late 80’s, Obesity was a largely unaddressed social problem. Today, Nike is the #1 brand of athletic shoes and Just Do It is an iconic tagline worldwide. Progress in the fight against obesity is being championed by the likes of Michelle Obama with “Let’s Move” and other major brand’s like Disney’s “Change4Life”.


localYou don’t have to be a multi-billion dollar corporation to affect change. Mother Theresa said, “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love”. You can start by rallying your team around a popular local charity to create local brand exposure and earned media coverage. Let’s talk!

Read Jerome Conlon’s The Brand Brief Behind Nike’s Just Do It Campaign here.

Tiffani Hollis
Tiffani Hollis
Founder, Creative Hero, Philanthropist, Artist, Poet, Seeker of Wisdom
I want instigate a social change from an attitude of indifference to making a difference, from apathy to empathy. Brands have the power of influence. By becoming champions for a good cause, brands can create both epic growth and social change.