Bill Harrison Marketing Communications

Advertising, Popular Culture & Typography

First Iteration of Nike Just Do It

Recently scanned from the original bumper sticker, which I believe was the first use of the phrase that became associated with Nike world wide.

David Kennedy called one day with a special assignment... "Pick up a layout for a job, after the type has been set, make sure it matches the layout, and then take it to Peter Moore at Nike." The job looked simple enough. It was for a bumper sticker, all caps, very tight, but not touching, it had a Nike logo and an interesting phrase…

Just Do It, From the Beginning

I knew a lot of people in town, but the people I knew at Wieden+Kennedy were very busy creating award winning work. However, I was able to place a set of our typeface catalogs in the W+K print production room. For over a year I updated those books twice a month, before we set one line of type for W+K.

A new art director, David Jenkins, had arrived. David had been creative director and vice president at Ogilvy & Mather in both New York and San Francisco, and things in Portland had not been moving fast enough for him, until one summer morning. I was in the W+K production room updating our typeface catalog and David was talking on the phone to our noble competitor. He was trying to submit some alterations for a Nike ad, but they were taking too long to find his layout. When he hung up, I asked if we could do anything to help.

I assured David that we would not lose his layout, that I would take personal responsibility for completing his work, that if he didn't like the typography we would change it to his preferences, that yes we could get it done before 5:00 pm in time for the FedEx courier.

gumbi ad
A High Flying 360 Slam Dunk

Schlegel typesetting was one of the first tradeshops to install high quality digital composition. And Michael Preive at W+K was one of the first to use the new capability for distorting letterforms. As I recall, this art was used for a large outdoor billboard.

Expertise & Willingness to Help A Client

That afternoon we did what once was impossible. We had our best typographer handset the headline on the Typositor. The body copy for the ad was set on our new Quadex system, and I hand delivered the galleys to David in his office at the Dekum building. We had done our best but he didn't like the letter spacing. He had specified 'tight but not touching', but the setting was too tight for him. We re-set the job and re-delivered it to him in time for the fed ex pick-up that evening.

At that time, there were about a dozen trade shops in the USA that were capable of producing highly refined typography, but very few were willing to "turn and burn" to make client adjustments within that time frame. We had the new system, we had patient typographers that had spent several months refining the "machine set" original tracking tables as supplied by the manufacturer, and we had the willingness to help a client that was known for producing good work.

With a minor adjustment to our custom table for Palatino, we were able to produce what he was looking for. On that day W+K became one of our toughest, most demanding, most loyal clients. Eventually the typography we completed for W+K would include the original settings for the Bo Jackson and Air Jordan ad campaigns that re-ignited Nike sales.

W+K Invitation
Best on Earth, Best on Mars

Michael Jordan as the best on earth, and Spike Lee as Mars Blackmon, his alter ego and character from his 1986 film "She's Gotta Have It".

Editing Copy to Fit the Layout

To expedite production, David Jenkins would walk down the hall and grab the appropriate copywriter to edit ads when he was not pleased with the wrap. He did not like the distraction of hyphens, and often demanded that the ad be rewritten to avoid them. I would patiently wait while the bravely focused writer rewrote well-honed prose into award-winning prose that fit the layout.

A Racing Shoe Should be Easy to Forget
Bo Jackson, Ball Player

The Legendary Bo Jackson, Heisman Trophy winner and the first athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports, looks at ease with football and baseball gear.

About the Power of Advertising

Several years later, when I was in David Jenkins' office to pick up layouts for a series of ads, he began to talk about advertising in a philosophical manner. He was wearing the usual blue jeans, but had a black tuxedo draped over the back of a chair. He wanted me there early so he would have time to explain the job and then drive to pdx to catch a flight. As he went about changing some details on the layout, he seemed a bit preoccupied, but wanted someone to listen.

"Bill, just imagine the power, the sheer power of advertising to change peoples lives. One of our interns recently did this ad for a small hole-in-the-wall health-food store. All it said was… "You're not the only one dying for a good hamburger… and it had a picture of a cow. The ad appeared in this downtown shopper tabloid, and the next day the place was jammed with people. Simply amazing.''

The intern had communicated a powerful thought to a targeted audience with a few words and a picture of an animal. With an eye-catching headline, a simple design and the minimal production complexity required for newsprint, she could focus her energies upon the core of her craft and increase the number of customers walking through the front door. Hopefully the owners would be able to meet customer expectations, maintain interest, and manage all the details required for daily operations. Undoubtedly, the ad gave the owners an opportunity for the long-term success that could change their lives for the better.

Where the Sucker's Moon

I enjoyed the discussion about the power of advertising, but at the time I wondered what he was up to with the tuxedo and his reflective manner. Several years later, Randall Rothenberg, a writer from the Wall Street Journal, would complete a book about Subaru's choice of W+K as their ad agency, titled Where The Suckers Moon. He would comment on the young man from W+K that was very professional, took his job seriously and wore a Tuxedo during the new business presentation.

Bo Jackson, Ball Player
Memorex ad

With digital composition at Schelegel Typesetting we were able to match line length and set type into position, based upon a great layout provided by Susan Hoffman at Wieden+Kennedy.

Dramatic Change: A New Era Begins

Eventually typesetting orders began to slow from Intel and Kaiser and Tektronix. I could see that our ability to paginate was migrating down to the personal computer level. The graphic arts technology that we had used to our competitive advantage would soon evolve & destroy the trade shop system.

Before long anyone with a computer would be able to produce typesetting. One talented person would be able to design, write and produce the entire project. There were new technologies on the horizon, new ways of working, new ways of collaborating on projects.

As I went on to pursue other interests with technical writing and the internet, I would often think back to those days when handcrafted pages were produced by men and women that truly understood the essentials of tracking, kerning, pressure, focus, collaboration, and power.

Workout for a Lineman