Nike serves up new ads supporting women

ByABC News
August 26, 2007, 10:34 PM

NEW YORK -- Nike has done it again: created an ad campaign sure to generate buzz.

The sporting-brand giant has put a marketing spin on the offensive comments made by radio shock jock Don Imus against the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Serena Williams, Picabo Street and Gabby Reece are part of the campaign that began Saturday. It includes TV ads, a giant New York City billboard with Williams that goes up Tuesday and a website with more than a dozen videos and space for women to share their sports stories.

Nike also anted up $425,000 in cash and equipment and launched the Let Me Play Fund, which will issue grants for equipment and uniforms. The fund is named after an emotional Nike ad that last aired in 1995 in which girls and women reveal the benefits of organized sports.

"We've been a supporter of female athletes, but we thought it was a good time to come out with a stronger message," says Nancy Monsarrat, Nike's U.S. brand director. "When the (Imus) comments were made, we said, 'This is our team. This is our coach.' We had to defend them, but that was just the start."

This new push comes months after sexist and racist comments by Imus about the Rutgers players and days after reports last week that Imus could return to radio.

After Imus' comments on April 4, Nike took out a full-page ad in the The New York Times that did not mention Imus by name but opened with: "Thank you, ignorance" followed with several more "thank yous" for "moving women's sports forward" and "making us all realize we all have a long way to go."

It has been 35 years since Congress passed Title IX, the law requiring gender equity for boys and girls participating in federally funded education programs.

Yet, shortly after the Imus comments, Nike marketers interviewed female high school athletes who reported they still don't feel as respected as their male counterparts. "We want to make sure women and girls are respected as athletes, and we wanted to provide a platform for them," Monsarrat says.