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Around Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., people now apologize under their breath when they catch themselves using the "Just do it" slogan in conversations for the umpteenth time.

"We can't help ourselves," said a Nike employee. "It's just so simple."

It's been used in bold headlines urging citizens to vote (The New York Post, 1992), imprinted on caps and sweatshirts celebrating the Chicago Bulls' third National Basketball Association championship ("Just Did It -- Again and Again") and heralded as the ethos of an entire generation (Time used it to sum up the baby boomers).

Since Nike first aired the Wieden & Kennedy campaign in 1988, the company has been flooded with letters from people who have been motivated to do much more than just buy a pair of shoes. Women have left abusive husbands; rescuers have summoned up the courage to enter burning buildings. It is the slogan of the 1990s.

Wieden President Dan Wieden first offered the three syllables to Nike advertising director Scott Bedbury and Nike's advertising managers during a presentation on the sense of ennui that seemed to be pervading the American psyche in the late 1980s. Stressed-out professionals weren't making time to exercise. Age was finally catching up with the baby boomers, who were appalled by their thickening middles.

The first "Just do it" ads featured wheelchair racer Craig Blanchette, and the slogan appeared in stark white letters on a black background. It was never spoken.

By 1992, the line was an integral part of Nike's advertising strategy, and the company paid more than $2 million to run a Super Bowl commercial using the slogan. By 1993, the line -- untranslated -- was identifiable across the globe.

Even so, Nike has been careful to keep close tabs on those three famous words. "We can't put it on pencils and key chains," Bedbury had said. "This thing has become much more than an ad slogan. It's an idea. It's like a frame of mind."

Nike's annual revenue since the slogan aired has rocketed from $1.2 billion in

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