Nike, Wieden + Kennedy Women’s Ad Campaign Broke New Ground 20 Years Ago

By Allan Brettman
The Oregonian, Portland, Ore.

Peggy Olson is fiction. Janet Champ is real.

The AMC series “Mad Men” has launched its final season and one of its most memorable and revolutionary characters has been Olson, the pool secretary who rose to influential ad copywriter, played by Elisabeth Moss.

That was Janet Champ’s career trajectory when she worked at Wieden+Kennedy.

As company legend has it, W+K’s creative team was struggling with ads for its Nike women’s campaign in the early 1990s. Champ, then a secretary, asked to try her hand at copywriting.

The ads that followed from Champ and creative director Charlotte Moore are some of the most memorable in the long, lauded history between the Portland-based, independent ad agency and the world’s largest sporting goods company. On the occasion of its 33rd birthday last week, W+K put a spotlight on seven print ads from the campaign, posting them for a day along with other memorable work from early in the agency’s history.

Maureen O’Connor, a former ad agency copywriter and now director of Portland State University’s advertising program, remembers the Nike women’s campaign well. She said via email:

“It’s hard to overestimate just how significant and breakthrough the original Nike women’s campaign by Janet Champ and Charlotte Moore was. The idea that you didn’t need to let anyone but you define who you were was an aha moment for women. The elegance of the copy and layout have made the campaign so timeless that I still teach it in my classes. (I can’t be the only person who hears Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in “say YES YES YES”) And the work of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty and “Love Your Curls” and the Under Armour campaign (among others) still delivers this message…which you would hope we wouldn’t still need to be doing, but there it is. The message fights against a lot of cultural garbage out there.

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