Remembering Dan Wieden’s impact on Nike

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When he praises a man with the gravitas that Dan Wieden has built into sports and marketing, the enormity of his influence makes certain failure certain. He’s the man who invented Nike’s “Just Do It”, after all.

Wieden passed away at 77 last week, and Wieden + Kennedy’s seminal iconoclastic work with Nike helped transform an apparel nameplate into the most indelible, and arguably the best, brand in sports in the world. It was done so uniquely and with such confidence, originality and panache that Wieden and Nike’s impact on sport and culture was reminiscent of the Beatles: enormous, transformative and continually influential. In an age where attention spans are shorter than a TikTok video, we’re still amazed by creatives like Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon ads, Charles Barkley’s “I’m not a model” disclaimer, and ” Bo Knows” decades later.

Consider the fusion of sports and pop culture; a force responsible for the growth of American sports like cable television did for the generation before Michael Jordan. Wieden helped fan and light that fire, with University of Oregon alumnus and Nike founder Phil Knight as a related cultural arsonist.

“Dan Wieden is responsible for many campaigns that have helped Nike move from sports to pop culture in a way that has never been done,” said Scott Rosner, professor and academic director of the sports management program at the University. ‘Columbia University.

Spike Lee’s Mars Blackmon commercials with Michael Jordan are among Wieden’s well-known works

Wieden and Knight drew or commissioned marketing plans that are still copied by an endless variety of product, service, and property marketers. Brand uber alles? Treat a property or an athlete as a brand?

Before Nike, branding was largely reserved for packaged goods giants, like Procter & Gamble, Unilever or Coke. Now that the swoosh is as connected to its consumers as any brand on the planet and a $47 billion business, the athletic shoe industry is a touchstone for marketers, and the imperative to branding is a universally accepted need for marketers of all persuasions, uh, swoosh.

“Dan Wieden and Nike created a whole new language around sports marketing that was a completely different take on it — merging entertainment, sports and culture,” said Chris Zimmerman, president and CEO of business operations for the Blues, who spent 11 years at Nike from 1995 to 2006, including three as NA publicity manager. “They had courage, a willingness to take risks and push people into places where they weren’t comfortable. Without a doubt, it was a trademark of Wieden and Nike, who were always ready to go with them.

Joani Wardwell worked with Knight, when she was at Nike from 1999 to 2006, and with Wieden at the agency from 2006 to 2016 in various corporate communications roles. “They both hated anything that wasn’t authentic, and they both loved telling stories and were good in their quiet ways,” she said.


Knight and Widen put corporate culture on a pedestal.

“They were both culture-focused before most of the business community even knew that terminology,” Zimmerman said. There was a powerful symbiosis between the companies that often made 1 + 1 equal three or four.

“They were a cohesive company most of the time,” said Scott Reames, Nike historian emeritus, who spent 29 years with the company before retiring in 2021. attended, it took me half an hour to figure out who were the people from Nike and who were from Wieden.

Lee Ann Daly, who had W+K as her agency while EVP/Marketing at ESPN, added, “There was a deep sincerity to the culture that Dan created. He wanted it to reflect the best, most authentic parts of himself and I’m sure Phil was the same way. Daly is now a consultant and sits on the board of the EO Wilson Biodiversity Foundation.

For those in need, W+K has conclusively demonstrated that great creativity is not confined to the confines of Madison Avenue. So the man who repeatedly said he wasn’t building an ad agency, often did so by hiring people from outside the field.

“Dan ruled his heart, not his head,” Daly said. “He would want to find the person inside or outside the agency who cares the most about something like professional bowling and put them on the line because their love will show. It was Dan.

Wieden’s death is the latest in a string of deaths since last October of Nike builders, including agency co-founder David Kennedy and Nike co-founder Howard Slusher. This sparks one of the great chicken-egg debates in all of marketing: Did Wieden+Kennedy make Nike or vice versa?

“There was a certain courage in Phil Knight’s vision for his brand and that became a key differentiator,” Zimmerman said. “Both were able to excel, based on their unique shared values.”

Reames echoed, “Nike isn’t where it is today without Wieden. I would say the same of Wieden and Nike, because it was the customer who gave them the freedom to create.


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