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Games laced with debate ad-vance Nike and Reebok Even bad publicity wears well in sales


Forget Dan's missed pole vault, the Dream Team jacket flap and Nike's copyright problems. When they get around to handing out the gold medals for marketing in Barcelona the winners will be . . . surprise! Nike and Reebok.

Despite what might seem to have been a spate of bad publicity, the two athletic shoe companies enjoyed unprecedented public attention during the Games -- lifting them far above other sponsors with more expensive ad campaigns. And in the marketing business, attention is the name of the game.

"Nike and Reebok have, in my opinion, both won from all this," said Curt Curtis, senior vice president of International Management Group, a Cleveland-based company specializing in sports promotion. "From a marketing standpoint, it has been great. They are certainly both distancing themselves from their competition."

David Burns, with Burns Sports Celebrity Service, a sports promotion company based in Chicago, said, "I'm convinced that they didn't lose anything -- they got a lot of press and continue to get a lot of press."

Reebok's performance, especially, seemed plagued by unexpected twists. After spending $25 million to promote the competition between U.S. decathletes Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson, Dan's pole vault troubles at the U.S. trials left him off the team. Then Dave, slowed by a stress fracture in his right ankle, had to struggle to win a bronze (although the event was won by a Czech athlete wearing Reeboks).

Meanwhile, America's millionaire Olympians of the men's team were raising their own flaps between golf games. Some of the players, including commercial superstar Michael Jordan, resisted wearing a Reebok jacket at the awards ceremony in deference to their Nike agreements.

Both companies, the top two contenders in the $12 billion-a-year athletic footwear industry, are sponsors of the U.S. Olympic team. Many track and field athletes wore Nike clothes and Reebok shoes. Reebok's deal includes the stipulation that all U.S. athletes will wear a red, white and blue Reebok warm-up suit on the award platform when they receive their medals.

But Jordan and some other team members -- apparently without any urging from Nike -- said they viewed wearing Reebok jackets as a breach of their agreement with Nike. The U.S. Olympic Committee agreed to allow them to open the collar of their suits, obscuring the Reebok logo.

And Nike was barred from selling its goods in Spain just before the Games began. A Spanish attorney has purchased the rights to the Nike name from a Barcelona sock company and demanded $20 million to $30 million from Nike to use the name on sports clothing sold in Spain, but the company refused.

Despite these troubles, and in some cases because of them, the two shoemaker's promotions are likely to be talked about and remembered long after Coke's "Shared around the World" CDs have been discarded.

Asked to pick the promotional winner of the Olympics, Graham Kirk, senior executive vice president of Gray Kirk/VanSant advertising agency in Baltimore, said, "It's Reebok No. 1, Nike No. 2 and No. 3 is so far down it doesn't seem to matter."

Although he personally found Coke's campaign superior in a technical and creative sense, the shoemakers' efforts are the most memorable, he said.

He gave Reebok high marks for quickly responding to the changing situation with its campaign. The company had a new ad out within 24 hours of Dan's failure at the qualifying meet in New Orleans.

Curtis predicted that most fans will find the jacket flap distasteful but will direct their anger at Jordan and the other athletes, not at Nike.

"The Dan and Dave campaign more than met our expectations. We feel we have scored an absolute home run," said Bernadette Mansur, vice president of communications with Reebok.

The company still is considering its next move, which may include ads with Dan and Dave, or Dan, Dave and the winning Czech decathlete, or none of the above, she said.

In what may be the final test of the campaign's effectiveness, she said the shoes being promoted by Dan and Dave are nearly sold out nationwide.

Nike did not return phone calls for information.

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