ADIDAS CONTINUES TO PLAY HARD

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World Cup '94 reacquainted Americans with the Adidas brand. Now it's up to the company's marketing executives to make sure Americans don't forget it.

Adidas America, a subsidiary of Adidas AG, and agency Team One, El Segundo, Calif., plan to roll out a national TV campaign for its basketball products endorsed by rough and tumble NBA star John Starks.

The spot follows a controversial commercial for the World Cup sponsor's Predator soccer boot featuring U.S. World Cup team goalkeeper Tony Meola. After a slew of Predator-kicked balls whiz by him, Mr. Meola testifies, "This shoe sucks." Skittish ABC and ESPN censors bleeped the final word.

Such unseemliness is unexpected from a company known for its Europeanlike erudition. That approach once irked the rebellious sensibilities of Nike Chairman Phil Knight, who, legend has it, vowed to tear Adidas apart in the late 1970s.

For the most part, Nike, along with L.A. Gear and Reebok International, did just that. By 1990, Adidas America sales were sputtering around $150 million and market share was less than 2%.

Enter former Saatchi & Saatchi Co. Chief Executive Robert Louis-Dreyfus and former Nike marketing wunderkind Rob Strasser. In 1992, Mr. Louis-Dreyfus became chairman of Adidas AG; Mr. Strasser was hired as Adidas America president.

Mr. Strasser died last year, but during his short tenure, he and Mr. Louis-Dreyfus introduced a youth movement that has produced dividends. In '92, the parent company lost $100 million; in '93, it reported a $6 million profit. And sales have grown slowly, up 2.7% to $190 million in 1993, according to Sportstyle, a New York-based industry trade.

Still, there are other challenges, said Bob McGee, Sportstyle athletic footwear editor: "Historically, they've had problems with product delivery. They need to fix that plus develop fresh innovative product in other categories ... They have the reputation for quality; now they have to deliver."

Laurel Wentz contributed to this story.

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