By the mid-1980s, Nike had surpassed $1 billion in corporate sales, chasing Reebok as the number one athletic shoe manufacturer. While revamping their brand with Wieden+Kennedy, they began working with NBA star Michael Jordan on a Nike Air campaign the advertising agency dubbed “Revolutio in Motion”. Their bigger-than-life star and new shoe needed some bigger-than-life music to launch it. The classic Beatles song of similar name seemed to be the perfect fit.
We never considered soundalikes. In our minds, it was the Beatles or no one.
Securing it to use for duration of the campaign wouldn’t be easy, or cheap. Nike famously paid $500,000 to Capitol-EMI Records and pop star Michael Jackson, who owned the masters to The Beatles catalog at the time. Eventually, the use of the song drew the legal notice of the surviving members of the band, who’d been against their music being used in advertising. A legal fight broke out that ultimately revolutionized the music business. Many other suits began to pop up, from artists like Bette Midler and Tom Waits, causing many labels and production houses to create new departments specifically charged with navigating licensing rights and potential pitfalls.
The “Revolution” song ran with the campaign in different forms until The Beatles’ suit was eventually settled out of court.