Nike serves up new ads supporting women

ByTheresa Howard, USA TODAY

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.

Williams clearly demands respect in the New York ad. In it, she stands holding a tennis racquet. The provocative ad asks: "Are you looking at my titles?" Hint: She's got eight Grand Slam titles.

"It's important to hear from women who overcome stereotypes, ignorance and inequality," Williams says. It's also important for a woman "to be an athlete, be strong and not feel sorry for kicking someone's butt," she says.

In TV and Web ads by agency Wieden & Kennedy, the athletes in unscripted monologues share their achievements and views on being an athlete. Says Heidi O'Neill, global vice president of women's training for Nike: "We're trying to move away from the negative and move toward the voice of optimism."

The campaign does just that, says senior Rutgers basketball guard Essence Carson, 21, of Paterson, N.J. "I'm very happy Nike is taking advantage of the situation to spread awareness."

The campaign, broadcast on MTV, Fuse and ESPN, includes five TV ads: one with the roster of Nike athletes and four others with Mia Hamm, street baller Alvina Carroll, high school coach Bill Ressler and skier Street. Digital ads on Facebook.com, Sports Illustrated's SI.com website and ESPN.com will drive traffic to nike.com and nikewomen.com.

"It's a very tough time transitioning from being a young woman to a woman," says volleyball player Reece, 37. "Sports is a great influence in balancing that and helping you with self-esteem."

In the ads and videos, the women wear T-shirts bearing the Nike swoosh and "ATHLETE." The $25 shirts and $9 rubber bracelets with words such as "strength" and "passion" are on sale at nike.com and select retailers. Nike donates $1 from the sale of each item to the fund. Grant requests can be made at nike.com and nikewomen.com. Applications by female teams or their coaches will be reviewed by a panel of 12.

O'Neill acknowledges that part of this effort is branding for Nike, which has 20% of worldwide sales for women's footwear and apparel. "But the other part is making the right products for (women) in footwear, apparel and equipment," O'Neill says. "What you're going to see is more and more of those products for specific sports and performance."

NEW & NOTABLE

Move over, Monopoly.

At a hefty $74.95, The Millionaire Maker Game could bring creator Loral Langemeier (a professional wealth strategist) and game distributor DreamLife Games a pretty nifty profit.

Game players try to build the highest net worth by snapping up fictional assets, such as a six-unit apartment building or a share in an oil well. Players have 60 minutes to make strong, strategic business decisions so they can end up on top.

Sold at select Barnes & Noble stores and at TheMillionaireMakerGame.com, it could be an ideal gift for the budding hedge fund investor in the family. Or perhaps a better decision is to just invest the $74.95 in a bond.

Online assistance.

Looking to finesse your pickup skills, glean new bar tricks or learn the proper way to boogie down with a whiskey in hand? Southern Comfort has tips at SocoNightInstitute.com. The campy website — which brags that it provides adults "with the knowledge and skills they need to turn their weak, lame nights into the stuff of legend" — offers a variety of "courses" such as "Dancing With a Drink in Your Hand."

Those who take courses can earn points redeemable for music downloads from Rhapsody.com. Visitors can also rate classes and create their own curriculum. User-submitted tips must first be cleared by the "faculty" — the SoCo marketing team in Louisville.

Revealing website.

Jockey is exposing some down-and-dirty details about undergarment use. Visitors to stopsquirming.com can select subtle or overt moves to adjust uncomfortable undies.

For men, moves range from the casual leg-shaking "trouser tremor" to the de-wedging "lobster claw" yank. Women can learn distraction techniques such as "warming up the hands" to adjust a bra strap.

Both genders can send a "grundy grievance" to a friend or romantic partner to let them know their skivvies are "too tight" or "dingy down under."

The site's motto: "Just say no to bad undies."

No, these people aren't sleepwalking.

To promote its snore-thwarting medication, SnoreStop will send couples out on the streets of Los Angeles in pajamas that say: "Our bedroom is sponsored by SnoreStop. Save your marriage the way we saved ours." "It will raise eyebrows and get laughs," says sales and marketing head Christian de Rivel, who also hopes to boost brand awareness.

By Theresa Howard, Bruce Horovitz, Laura Petrecca

ASK THE AD TEAM

Q. Who's the voice of the animated bee in the Nasonex ad?

A. Antonio Banderas. Banderas, 47, has been in all six ads for the nasal inhaled steroid since BBDO created the campaign in 2004.

Nasonex maker Schering-Plough wouldn't name Banderas. "Because of contractual restrictions, I can't disclose the name of the performer," said spokeswoman Julie Lux.

But Banderas' Hollywood reps were happy to note that in addition to buzzing about Nasonex, Banderas has appeared in numerous other ads — most outside the USA. In the USA, Banderas lent his star power to public service ads for Salvation Army, St. Jude and The One Campaign.

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