“Just Do It” Co-Creator Scott Bedbury on Authenticity in Higher Education

Hearing from branding guru Scott Bedbury was a highlight for the private higher education senior administrators who attended last week’s Summer Seminar co-hosted by Lawlor Advisory.

The author of A New Brand World, Bedbury served as Nike’s worldwide advertising director, leading the creation and launch of the “Just Do It” global campaign in 1988. Weaving in stories and videos from that historic time with lessons for today’s “post truth” world, he demonstrated the enduring power of purpose in expressing a brand identity.

He also referenced his work as Starbuck’s chief marketing officer during the mid-1990s, when he helped it become a global brand. He recounted his team doing a dream state exercise that required imagining all of the sensory perceptions associated with a situation, which eventually resulted in positioning Starbucks as the “third place” between home and work.

Bedbury is now the CEO of Brandstream, a brand strategy firm that has advised companies such as Airbnb, Apple, Casper Sleep, Coca-Cola, Corona, Facebook, Ferrero, P&G, Kaiser Permanente, Microsoft, NASA, North Face, Samsung, Starwood, the U.S. Navy, and VWAG.

“Great institutions serve a noble, meaningful, and enduring purpose rooted in human needs,” he said. “A clear, well executed purpose can bring the world together.” He cited a few examples:

  • Starbucks exists to inspire and nurture the human spirit one cup, one person, one neighborhood at a time.
  • Nike exists to bring innovation and inspiration to the athlete in all of us.
  • Airbnb exists to make people around the world feel like they can belong anywhere.

His advice for brand expression starts with “Be a master storyteller.” To demonstrate, he showed a vintage Nike commercial featuring an octogenarian runner, and he recalled the powerful moment of gaining the approval of Yoko Ono to play John Lennon’s “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” in another Nike commercial.

To illustrate his advice to “Be fully present,” Bedbury showed a Nike commercial called “Y2K” that ran only for one day: January 1, 2000. (It featured several visual jokes of the outlandish mayhem in the streets on “the day after,” with a devoted runner blithely dodging the chaos to maintain his daily routine.)

Bedbury also asserted that a brand must exhibit conscience and a concern for consequences. “The best brands stand on principle in a hail of controversy,” he said, citing Nike’s present-day “Dream Crazy” campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

“In an age of so much digital distraction, distortion, and disruption, to be more fully present in the moments that matter, big and small, is to be more superhuman,” Bedbury declared. He noted that these branding principles apply in the case of higher education institutions too. “This is the time to be more transparent, more present, and more purpose-driven,” he concluded.

Scott Bedbury at Summer Seminar