I was in his bedroom after he passed.
I was there for the last good-bye.
I sat, staring at him.
45 years of memories flashed by.
It had been Peter Moore who said, “the best advertising minds in the area just opened their own shop. You need to check them out.”
I walked in their rented space and saw four guys sitting around a card table. One of them stood up, “I’m Dan Wieden,” to which I responded, “I’m Phil Knight, and I hate advertising.”
After a pause he said, “Well, this is going to be interesting.”
Over the years much has been made of that initial exchange, mostly because of the humor, but that misses the point. Dan Wieden interpreted me before I interpreted me. What I really meant was that I hated traditional advertising, where Joe Jock says, “Smoke Lucky Strike because I do,” or drink x Cola like I do.
And that coincided with his belief in real advertising, advertising that reflected the essence of the people and the brand he was representing.
Our big ad buy at the time was the back page of Runners’ World, so it was not a very big canvas for him to paint on. But when we decided to embark on a national TV campaign, he was ready.
Within a short time, his body of work included:
Banned in the NBA
I Love LA
It’s Gotta Be The Shoes
If You Let Me Play
Chicks Love The Long Ball
Mr. Robinson’s Neighborhood
And above it all: Just Do It
It captured the world’s imagination and propelled Nike to new heights.
It didn’t hurt the reputation of Wieden+Kennedy either. That card table with its four guys evolved into the world’s most creative ad agency, with offices in New Delhi, Shanghai, Tokyo, New York, London and Amsterdam—1,500 very creative people work there. It has won dozens of Cannes Advertising Festival awards and placed Dan in the Advertising Hall of Fame.
Behind it all was a very unusual man, a gentle soul, more poet than businessman, a beloved father, and husband who cared deeply about all the people around him.
I do not think you will see his like for a very long time.
As I rose to leave the room, my eyes welling, the words that came to mind: “Thank you . . . for being you.”
Below, some Nike-W+K ads, beginning with the first "Just Do It" spot: