May 6, 1985: Lou Reed encourages people not to walk…

It all goes back to Lou Reed.

Otherwise, Bo wouldn't have known Diddley. Nike wouldn't have just done it. Spike Lee's Mars Blackmon wouldn't have placed all his bets on those Air Jordans.

Portland ad company Wieden + Kennedy is giant now—offices in London, Delhi and Beijing—but back in 1985 it was a second-string shop, the local kids Nike used on small stuff when they didn't want to pay Chiat/Day, the New York megafirm that made those "1984" spots for Apple.

Then along came Lou Reed.

Wieden had landed an account for some silly, midsize Honda Elite scooters. But instead of showing the scooters blazing down country roads in the middle of wheat fields, the company shot the commercial on the gritty streets of the Lower East Side, filming cabbies, saxophone players, and people almost getting run over. The soundtrack was "Walk on the Wild Side," but without the words.

The film was so grainy you'd think somebody had shot it on an early camcorder, and editor Larry Bridges clipped it fast and blurry and used cut-reel outtakes, with techniques culled from the French New Wave. The one-minute ad didn't even allow a glimpse of the scooter until the final shot, when Lou Reed—leaning cool as gelato on that scooter—says, "Hey, don’t settle for walkin’.” 

It was all hip feeling, followed with a cornball sales pitch from the guy who wrote Metal Machine Music and a bunch of songs about heroin.

Bridges called it a meta-advertisement. The New York Times has since called it the first postmodern ad. And according to historian David Halberstam, it was this spot that made Nike switch to Wieden+Kennedy without even a call for competition. 

Wieden+Kennedy, of course, grew up along with Nike, creating not only the shoe giant's iconic slogan but also most of its memorable ad campaigns, starting with a series of spots starring then-underground director Spike Lee. Portland became known as an offbeat design center housing not just Wieden+Kennedy but countless little boutique ad and marketing shops, a hub for the creative class that author Richard Florida thought would save America, one Pearl District loft at a time.

Where the Suckers Moon

From the Archives:

A 2008 profile of Jim Riswold, creative director of the Lou Reed ad
Here's the Pitch, December 2, 2009: Cover story on Wieden+Kennedy

Willamette Week's journalism is funded, in part, by our readers. Your help supports local, independent journalism that informs, educates, and engages our community. Become a WW supporter.