What ‘Just Do It’ Really Means

Have you ever tried to define the meaning of Nike’s celebrated slogan? Although made up of three simple words, clarifying it may be more difficult than expected. Especially to people who are not native English speakers, the most famous brand payoff of all time may sound familiar yet not necessarily transparent. But now a very kinetic ad from China, titled “The New Wave” and made by Wieden + Kennedy Shanghai, provides an explanation of what ‘Just Do It’ is all about.

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As noticed in a brilliant Adweek piece by Gabriel Beltrone, the video is built with increasingly long continuous shots, that add to its rhythm. A boy juggles a soccer ball on a sidewalk with great dexterity. Some girls bounce a basket-ball in the street, as skateboarders slide around and frisbee players make acrobatic catches. On rooftops, young parkour athletes fly off walls and across scaffolding, at dizzying speed. Then roller hockey players, BMX bikers, and baseball players skilfully intermix their movements in a scene more and more crowded with runners. In the final frames, all the athletes join a throng of people taking part in a collective race along the Haihe river in Tianjin.

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The film has a riveting dynamism, and several surprising moments. In addition to the crowd of amateurs, it also includes sports celebrities that are well-known to the Chinese audience, reflecting the usual Nike strategy of attracting customers through the endorsement of highly valued professionals.

The visual component definitely has a very Just-Do-It quality. But where the ad actually explains what the slogan means is in the voiceover. To avoid banality, however, there’s a twist: “You don’t have to do it for the glory. You don’t have to do it to be famous. You don’t have to do it for the boys. It doesn’t matter how you do it. Or where you do it. You don’t have to do it right.” The explanation, in short, is offered in the negative. The verbal lines help to define what the meaning is, by saying what it isn’t.  “You don’t have to do it like this, or do it like that. You don’t have to do it for the attention. […] You don’t have to do it like anybody else. […] We never said to do any of this. All we said was, JUST DO IT”.


Well, this is the clearest definition of Nike’s slogan I’ve ever found. Coupled with the visual scenes, the voiceover says that the brand:

  • encourages people to do sports
  • is against extrinsic motivations
  • is all for the spontaneous drive to be active, which can take all forms.

Also, as Beltrone says, this video is not just a celebration of sports. It’s a celebration of freedom. Nike’s vision is that in sport there’s nothing that needs to be done – you have to do it your own way. Here is where the joyful approach of amateurs and the focused passion of pros meet. The message is particularly strong for the Chinese public. Don’t please anyone. Just do it.

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