In 1988, Nike released its now famous slogan, “Just Do It,” with the iconic whoosh beneath it. It was originally introduced in a television commercial featuring an 80-year-old man named Walt Stack, as he jogged across the Golden Gate Bridge in California.
What’s not very well known is the true source of the famous tagline. It was actually inspired by the final words uttered by a convicted murderer. Gary Gilmore was convicted of killing two people in Utah in 1976 and was sentenced to death. Just before he was executed, he was asked if he had any last words. Facing down a five-man firing squad, Gilmore called out, “Let’s do it.”
The “Let’s do it” slogan catapulted sales of Nike sneakers.
What’s fascinating is that neither the iconic swoosh nor the ubiquitous slogan, “Just Do It,” mention the name of the sports brand or the fact that they offer sports clothing. So how has the advertising helped Nike become one of the world’s highest profile athletic brands?
It turns out that the magic lies in arousing feelings of positive emotions within customers that resonate with their values and desires. The “Just Do It” campaign featured professional and amateur athletes talking about their accomplishments and the emotions they feel as they exercise. In the original video of Walt Stack, he explains to viewers how he runs 17 miles every morning. Stories like Walt’s evoke an immediate emotional response in viewers and lead them to ask, “If these athletes can do it, why can’t I?”
The “Just Do It” campaign was so powerful that people began to contact Nike with personal stories about how they “just did it,” including leaving a job they hated or beginning to exercise or make other improvements in their lives.
The slogan also made its way into many a musar schmooze in the hallowed halls of yeshivos.
Rebbeim are always looking to throw in a contemporary quip, slogan, or name of a famous sports player to pique the attention of their students. “Let’s do it” was the perfect line to accomplish just that.
What I found fascinating was how the line could be used in different lectures to make the exact opposite point.
One rebbe could talk about the need to “just do it” by pushing yourself to serve Hashem even when you’re not in the mood. Then another rebbe would say that we shouldn’t be like the “sneaker company” which says to “just do it,” because we shouldn’t do things mindlessly without contemplating the significance and consequences of our actions.
The reality is that both sides are true. It’s reminiscent of the famous line of Reb Simcha Bunim of Pershischa that every person should have a piece of paper in each of his pockets: one that says, “I am but dust and ashes,” the other that says, “The world was created for me.” The balance of humility with a sense of mission keeps a person grounded.
The secret to success in life is all about finding the right balance.
On the one hand, Reb Tzadok HaKohen (Tzidkas HaTzadik 1) writes that, when starting anything new in avodas Hashem, a person has to jump in. If he thinks too much and plans too much, he may never get there. He has to be willing to take the plunge and “just do it.”
On the other hand, we are cautioned that our evil inclination tries to convince us to just do the deed without forethought. “It’s not so bad!” “It’s not such a big deal!” “Everyone else is doing it!” So…“just do it!” (The Or Yacheil famously explains that when Yaakov asked the mal’ach that he had just defeated what his name was, the mal’ach replied, “Why do you ask me my name?” That wasn’t an evasion of the question but actually the answer. That mal’ach was the yeitzer ha’ra. His essence and greatest technique to get people to sin is to convince them not to ask questions. “Just do it” now – and ask questions later.)
Our task is not to fall for the seductions of our evil inclination, but to remain resolute in our convictions.
The bottom line is that there’s a time and place when we should just do it, and there’s a time and place when we have to be strong and not just do it. Regarding selfish matters, we should think twice; but things involving spiritual matters and benefiting others, we should be ready to just do it.
The holiday of Chanukah is very much connected with this theme. The greatest tragedy of that dark time wasn’t the Syrian-Greek enemy, as much as it was the Hellenists, the assimilated Jews who wanted to prove their loyalty to the enemy. It was they who encouraged Antiochus and his armies to continue the persecution of the faithful.
The heroes of the story, the Maccabees, felt they were embarking on a suicide mission. But their attitude was to just do it: for the sake of the Torah, for the sake of their heritage, and for the sake of the future of their people. They didn’t allow themselves to contemplate their mortality or calculate their chances. They knew they had to act!
Chanukah is a celebration of the courageous actions of the faithful few.
The moral of the story is that we should be like Nike and just do it, except for those times when we shouldn’t just do it. Then we should consider Under Armor or Adidas.
Truthfully, after eating all those latkes and doughnuts during Chanukah, any type of sneaker is worthwhile, as long as you put them on and just do it!