Dan Wieden (Part 1): We started by ignoring the rules of advertising

How a mutual disregard for traditional advertising kickstarted Wieden + Kennedy and Nike’s success.

“We were pretty stupid when we began,” says Dan Wieden, co-founder of one of the largest independent ad agencies in the world, Weiden + Kennedy. “Our client [Nike] didn’t know what to do with us either. So between Nike and Wieden + Kennedy we kind of just ignored the rules of advertising such as we’d heard them.”

Ignoring these rules meant that Wieden + Kennedy had to invent unusual advertising strategies and offer clients unexpected ideas. Its bold approach enabled the agency to survive on the edge and birthed breakthrough advertising campaigns for brands such as Nike.

The agency’s intrepid spirit could be summed up in the tagline it famously coined for Nike. Wieden came up with “Just do it” after hearing about Gary Gilmore, a troubled young man who was executed by firing squad for murdering an elderly couple. Before the executioners put the hood over his head, they asked him if he had any last words. Gilmore said, “Let’s do it.” 

Wieden says the line “just touched people in a ways that had nothing to do with athletics even. It was just a sense of taking on your life, taking it head on. Whatever is coming.”

Wieden credits the success of the agency, which now has offices in seven countries, to its ragtag army of employees – “people fresh out of school or people who’ve been fired everywhere else”.

That and what Wieden calls the “willingness to fuck something up”.


Watch the Talk with Dan Wieden

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