Last week it was my birthday. I won’t specify the exact date as the team at Groundbreak HQ often become quietly frustrated when I am inundated with flowers, chocolates and negligee from well-wishers and fanatics.
Nor will I explicitly state the year that I was born. When I am occasionally pushed for an answer to this question I daintily wither like a debutante southern belle, offer only “the year of the Dragon”, and nod to indicate that that should suffice.
A further clue would be that I share a birth year with the most consistently ubiquitous voice of Pop since my early teens and po-faced Bajan – Rihanna. Another still is that I am the same age, height and weight as MMA and Dublin’s Conor McGregor, he has ever so slightly better posture than I do which creates the optical illusion that he is in marginally better shape than I am fitness wise. A third clue, a certain giveaway, is that I have the same year of birth as the unrivalled, unparalleled, the absolute definitive ginger wizard of his generation Sir Rupert Grint.
As true for myself as it is for BadGalRiRi, The Notorious and GinWizWeasley – since we were born, things have changed. When we four were born television advertising in the UK was only 33 years old (I’m quite old, the Berlin wall was still up) and between then and now TV commercials and marketing have changed significantly.
Old TV Advertisements
One thing I remember being confused by as a child were the advertisements that were seemingly for a generic product that was unbranded. Usually for foodstuffs like the famous “go to work on an Egg” ad campaign of the 50s and 60s (long before I was born). Who pays for those ads? Hens? Were they governmental schemes to push egg sales and if so why? Is that what communism is? Where were the adverts for shoes?
“Remember to buy shoes!”
“Shoes! For your feet”
“Slip in to something lacy”
Remember when the League Cup was sponsored by Milk? MILK! Not Alpro, or Dairy Crest or any other brand. Lactose or otherwise this was a huge national football competition that was sponsored Milk. Good old-fashioned Milk direct to you from the Mad Cows of yesteryear. Bizarre.
Here is an ad that was being broadcast during the year that myself, The Fenty founder, The 170 lbs Irish gorilla, and The Venerable Saint Rupert Grint were born. This ad is a TV commercial promoting that most prestigious of products – Pork. The ad encourages families to “lean on Pork”. This pun seems to hint at pork being less fatty than other meats as well as being comparatively economically priced so when the pantry looks bare you can always lean on pork to get you through the week.
Staying with the food theme, although this time overtly branded, this next and equally odd video features current spouse of the fabulously tyrannical Rupert Murdoch and mother to four of Mick Jagger’s children Jerry Hall. She turns to camera as the narrator whose voice sounds like he is newly recovered from inhaling some water asks us “Are you a Bovril Body?”
Jerry with the sensual air of someone who has never been asked a more reasonable and enticing question answers “With 20 calories a cup, naturally”. She then takes a sip from a double handled, fine china and (one would guess) antique, Bovril cup.
There and then as a babe in my mother arms I unlatched from her breast. Screaming, I declared that milk was for sponsoring football tournaments and overweight people – I was to have a Bovril Body! In the (few) decades since, I have drank Bovril and Bovril only. Another striking similarity between myself and the two-weight world champion Conor McGregor as I’m told he does the same when cutting weight before fights. A marketing triumph.
The above ads are examples of commercial productions that were still in their broadcast cycle when I was born. However, the following and final ad actually debuted in the very same Tibetan year of the Female Fire Rabbit as I did. In a harrowing prophecy of my retirement this commercial features an 80-year-old jogger Walt Stack. He is running over San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge topless. As he runs he tells us that he runs 17 miles every morning. He then tells us that people ask him how he keeps his teeth from chattering in the winter time. “I leave ‘em in my locker” Walt quips and runs on by, the guy is a maverick. Walt, as astounding and virile an octogenarian as I’m sure he was, is not the star of this ad. The true star is what follows next. A logo and a super.
“Just do it. NIKE”
This was the very first* usage by Nike of “Just do it.” It was pitched to Nike by a marketing executive who reportedly came up with it by repurposing the last words of a murderer who uttered “Just do it” to the firing squad that were braced in anticipation ahead of him in his last moments.
The flippancy, the attitude, the simplicity, the singularity of focus and determination, the inspiration, the hope, the unsympathetic self-belief of the phrase has entranced and resonated with us ever since. From that day to this, from an 80-year-old jogger running 17 miles because he can to NFL and Nike athlete Colin Kaepernick refusing to stand for his national anthem to this day in protest of the treatment of minorities in the US, Nike have found moving stories and branded them. How does an 80-year-old man run 17 miles a day? How can an athlete have the courage to lose his job and millions of dollars to stand up for what he believes in? In the first case and the second, which was heavily marketed by Nike to mark the anniversary of the phrase in 2018, the answer is the same – Just do it.
The birth of a truly iconic and globally successful symbol within the world of advertising… as well the birth of Nike’s Just do it. A fine year of the dragon indeed.
*Not the first use of “Just do it” by any brand. Two years before Nike’s campaign Britain’s very own Weetabix had an ad that could not have been more of its time. Featuring animated characters that made up the Weetagang dancing through dark city streets, a bespoke rock ballad extolls the virtues of a filling breakfast and even squeezes in a brief sax solo, the pavement flags light up as the characters step on them, the song and the ad end when the characters jump in to a billboard Weetabix ad and the singer shout-sings “Wake up with Weetabix… and just do it.” We now know what really kept Walt Stack running 17 miles every morning.