The Greatest Ad Campaign Ever?

UPDATED: February 24, 2014
PUBLISHED: February 24, 2014

Bo knows.

Bo knows. BoknowsBoknows BoknowsBoknows. In a business magazine or any context, really, it’s basically impossible to mention Bo Jackson without talking about possibly the most effective marketing campaign the world has ever seen.

In 1989, while on the losing end of a battle with Reebok for athletic shoe superiority, Nike built on the success of its recently launched “Just Do It” campaign with a series of commercials centered on Jackson’s athletic versatility—“Bo knows football. Bo knows baseball. Bo knows basketball. Bo knows tennis.” One after one, the greats of each sport attested to Jackson’s God-given, all-around athletic prowess, which made him the perfect pitchman for Nike’s latest cross-training shoes, meant for athletes to wear in more than one sport.

Jim Riswold, a copywriter at the advertising firm Wieden & Kennedy, jotted the campaign’s greatest punch line on a napkin, according to author Bernice Kanner in The Super Bowl of Advertising. After taking advice from friends on what other star athletes should attest to Jackson’s ability, he realized that only the famous blues rocker could tell Jackson, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley.”

And so one of Nike’s most memorable campaigns was born. But the commercials didn’t just achieve pop-culture acclaim. They also proved effective. In a matter of months, Nike supplanted Reebok as the No. 1 sneaker brand and achieved 80 percent of the market share of all cross-training shoe sales.

The campaign came to its logical end in 1990 and disappeared for three years, until Jackson made his triumphant return from his catastrophic hip injury to homer in his first at bat of the season. The next day, Nike ran an ad in USA Today that said what sports fans were already thinking of the determined athlete.

“Bo knew.”

Read the full story on Bo Jackson—and how he found new avenues for achievement after an injury took him off the playing field.

Josh Ellis is the former editor in chief for SUCCESS magazine. Before joining SUCCESS in 2012, he was an accomplished digital and print sportswriter, working for the Dallas Cowboys Star magazine, the team’s gameday program, and Originally from Longview, Texas, he began writing for his hometown newspaper at 16.