Some athletes and celebrities are perfect fits for a marketing campaign. None, however, took over pop culture and arrived at the quintessential moment quite like Nike’s “Bo Knows” commercial.
Nike’s advertisement for a brand new cross-training shoe would feature two-sport megastar Bo Jackson as its focal point. The plan was to roll out the commercial during the fourth inning of the 1989 MLB All-Star Game. In the top of the first inning, the Kansas City Royals outfielder clobbered a 450-foot, leadoff home run over the centerfield wall. Jackson took home the game’s MVP honors, and after Nike’s commercial aired during his performance, the multi-million campaign became the benchmark for sports marketers around the world.
With former President Ronald Reagan in the booth alongside Los Angeles Dodgers great Vin Scully, Jackson’s blast set the tone for one of the most popular advertising slogans of all time.
Nike’s “Bo Knows” Commercials
Cameos from Nike-sponsored athletes like Dodgers star Kirk Gibson, Rams quarterback Jim Everett, NBA icon Michael Jordan, runner Joan Benoit Samuelson, tennis legend John McEnroe, and NHL great Wayne Gretzky were dubbed by Bo Diddley’s music.
In fact, Diddley’s closing line while Jackson miserably fails at playing guitar was where the whole idea started.
The plan crafted by Jim Riswold, a copywriter and creative director at Nike’s ad agency Wieden & Kennedy, derived from a brainstorming session at a Portland bar. According to Yahoo! Sports, while trying to align Jackson’s unique first name with other famous Bo’s over time, somebody mentioned influential singer/songwriter Bo Diddley. Riswold then wrote down, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley” and left that bar with maybe the most genius commercial in history in his pocket.
“I went home from the bar and actually dreamt that spot,” Riswold said. “I wrote it down and everyone loved it when I shared the idea the next morning.”
Legacy of “Bo Knows” Ad Campaign
Nike began dominating the cross-trainer market. AdAge reported (via Highsnobriety) that before Jackson became the centerpiece, global sales for the shoes were less $40 million. After the “Bo Knows” ad campaign exploded, sales sailed to more than $400 million.
Jackson’s Nike commercials stand today as not just a pillar for what a successful marketing campaign looks like, but they’re also about how massive this guy was in pop culture. Next to Michael Jordan, no athlete in the early 1990s was more famous.
Jackson was so dominant in professional baseball, he referred to playing in the NFL as a “hobby.” Had that devastating hip injury in a playoff game against the Cincinnati Bengals not derailed the Los Angeles Raiders running back’s career, Jackson likely would’ve made multiple Pro Bowl and All-Star Game appearances before his time was done.
Jackson’s philanthropic work like Bo Bikes Bama continues to strengthen his legacy in his home state of Alabama. He regularly returns to Auburn University where he won the 1985 Heisman Trophy to support the Tigers. He’s a star that transcends decades, and when it comes to things “Bo Knows,” the list would probably be shorter if you detail the things Bo Jackson doesn’t know.