The Sneaker Wars

Article excerpt

By Patricia Lamiell

Associated Press

NEW YORK _ This year's Summer Olympics may be best remembered not for demonstrations of athletic prowess, but as the year Nike Inc. and Reebok International Ltd. squared off in the Great Sneaker Wars.

The footwear giants have mounted multimillionllar marketing campaigns featuring superstar endorsements, hoping to win the gold medal with consumers. Yet their quests for global recognition, like that of some Olympic athletes, have encountered numerous hurdles.

"Athlete endorsements is one way to get an edge," said Gary M. Jacobsen, an industry analyst at Kidder, Peabody Co. "But I think at the end of the day, it's all a wash. They're like two gorillas swinging away, and they already have (a combined) 60 percent of the market."

The companies together are believed to have spent more than $50 million on Olympics advertising. Reebok alone spent $25 million on an ad campaign featuring the decathletes Dave Johnson and Dan O'Brien.

Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan disputed the total figure, insisting the company's Olympic advertising is part of an ongoing campaign.

But Nike, best known for shoes designed for competition, clearly has spent millions to buy the endorsement of the U.S. Dream Team, a group of professional basketball players who got together specifically for the Olympics.

While both campaigns have met roadblocks, Reebok has won praise for turning a potential disaster into at least a neutral event.

Reebok, better known for its leisure shoes, began running its "Dan and Dave" television campaign last February to coincide with the Superbowl. But the campaign nearly derailed after O'Brien failed to qualify for the Olympic decathlon competition.

Reebok quickly turned out new ads that had Dan prodding Dave to train harder for the games. Advertising professionals called it a good save that painted O'Brien as a good sport and the company as a good comeback story.

"I think the whole Reebok campaign with Dan and Dave was enormously clever, given the circumstances," said Ray Benton, president of R.S.B. Ventures, a sports celebrity broker.

With O'Brien not competing, Reebok had more than ever riding on Johnson. …