Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Significance of You

Fellow generational blogger JenX67 recently wrote a really smart piece about how her many pairs of Nikes have carried her through the various stages of her life. It immediately reminded me of an old Nike ad I’d torn out of a magazine 20 years ago. It was eight pages long—unheard of in the typical rules of brevity in advertising—and began with the phrase, “You were born a daughter.”

It replayed some of the desires and dreams girls all have when we're little.

It evolved through many of the typical insecurities girls go through growing up.

No matter what you went through, the ad touched on it. You were included.

When I first saw it, I was 19 years old; I had no boyfriend, no job, had dropped out of college and had just moved back in with my parents. I didn’t know what the heck to do with my life. My ideas changed daily but were backed by no real motivation. I was living in a new town and didn’t know anyone.

And then finally...

"You became significant to yourself."

Yesterday I did a quick Google search for phrases from the ad. I was amazed to find other blogs mentioning it, other women talking about how they, too, had ripped out and saved that ad. One talked about taping it to her wall where it stayed for years…and then dozens of her readers commented that they had also ripped, taped, and saved.

This was a brilliant campaign, not just because we all remembered the slogan of JUST DO IT, but because we internalized the core message. It successfully appealed to the deep motivational pit in the souls of women across America, from teenager to middle age. Apparently even Oprah herself read it on an episode of her show.

It was written by then-32-year-old copywriter Janet Champ, whose message was that women who take responsibility for everyone else needed to take care of themselves. Later Nike ads written by Champ (how perfect of a name is that?) further championed the power within women while simultaneously challenging outdated beliefs on the capabilities of women. Not only did she inspire the athlete within us, she inspired legions of burgeoning writers, myself included. Don Draper could learn a thing or two from this chick!

Over the years when I'd rediscover the pages in my notebook, I would mentally check off the items in the copy that I’d reached in my life thus far. If I found that I’d reached another one, I think it reassured me that maybe my life wasn’t so off track after all, that I was just running through the normal milestones at my own pace. Many times the ad's message was in the back of my mind when I made a major life decision; when I ended that relationship that felt too confining, when I enrolled in graduate school at 37, when I started putting my writing out there for the world to see.

I think that becoming significant to yourself has different meanings at different ages. Early on it means finding your voice, standing up for yourself. Later it means letting go of outside influences and negative peers, following your dreams. Later still it can mean regaining an independence you might have set aside for years when you chose to devote your energies to family.

In any instance, it's a profound realization to make the commitment to be significant to yourself...for the first time, or once again.

"Because you know it's never too late to have a life. And never to late to change one."


  1. As a former copywriter and current Creative Director, it's nice to see that some ads hit their target...and maybe, just once in a while, inspire someone. Great entry. Erik

  2. HeyRey,

    Great work. You mentioned how lengthy this ad was. We studied Nike at UCF in the last class you have to take to get your business degree, which puts a little different spin on Nike.

    Remember when Reebok got popular back in the mid 80's? It seemed they had the market cornered on aerobic shoes, which gave them a foothold (no pun intended) into the American athletic shoe market. Why, might you ask? Because the virtually all male board of directors/executive management felt that the aerobic fitness craze was just 'a fad' with women, but tiny Reebok in 1982 marketed their aerobic shoes for women, which launched them into capturing a huge market share.

    So, if you wondered what necessitated such a huge ad focusing on women, it could be that Nike's failure to be diverse in upper management put it behind the power curve because it initially underestimated those silly women with their silly little fads, like Oprah. (Sarcasm)

    But, it was a great ad......and still is.

  3. Oh, I remember this ad so well now!! It was so inspiring. I felt like crying reading this post. Ads don't get to me anymore. =( Have we become jaded?

  4. It pleases me to no end that a post about motivating women spurred comments from men!

    Kyle, I have heard that about Reebok's strategy before, and it's fascinating. Count me as one of the millions who bought Reeboks as their very first aerobic shoe. But, my first (and still favorite) running shoe is Nike. Go figure.
    The brilliance of this ad lies in its longevity. This ad is not just 'remembered' for decades, but it continues to influence for decades. Brand loyalty? You betcha. Heck, I'll buy their shoes just to thank them for employing the woman who wrote that copy.

  5. My first running shoe was the Nike Pegasus...awesome shoe and ads don't get to me anymore either, Jen...jaded or hormones? I don't know which!

  6. I re-posted this having looked for this ad everywhere. I ripped it out, too, and still remembered almost every word! It seems more significant now than ever - so many Gen X-ers I know are starting on new paths right now...Thanks!

  7. So SUPER AWESOME that you had a copy of the original ad. I just pinned it and linked back to your website. Thanks for sharing it. I only quoted it on my blog and it was so wonderful to see the real thing here.

    1. Thank you, ShoeGirl! I wonder now, with so many publications going paperless, will we save as many memorable artifacts anymore? Or will we end up saving so many things with a simple click that they get lost in the virtual pile? In either case, the power and ease to share and connect with others is so wonderful now! Thank you for continuing to share.

  8. Thank you! I'm a Creative Director. This ad was on my wall to inspire me creatively...for too long (from college through the early years of my ad career). I loved what it grabbed on to emotionally in me...and millions of other women.

    I draw from this ad when I think "anthemic," and it definitely is. Thanks for posting all 8 pages. I haven't seen all 8 since I had it up on my wall in the early 90s.

    So glad to see that people remember it.

  9. I think so much of the beauty of this ad is that it is applicable to absolutely any goal/dream/desire you might have. It's not just about getting out there and running a marathon. It's about moving out west, ending that stalled relationship, starting that new business, taking that course just because it's interesting, having that baby.... and everything that got you to that point.

    Thank you for reading and commenting!