The $17 million campaign, breaking July 5, will profile virtually unknown athletes: a rookie NFL running back, a rookie NFL lineman, an NHL rookie-league hockey player and a world-class cyclist.
The four will be seen training in K-Swiss shoes in spots set to an "electronica" sound track, an in-vogue music format produced by hard-driving synthesizers.
The spots, to run into September, are from Houston Helm, Marina del Rey, Calif.
RESURGENT BRAND: CLASSICS
K-Swiss has been on a roll the last year with sales soaring, up 39% to $162 million for 1998. Net income rocketed 201% to $12.5 million. The resurgence has been due to its Classics model -- a tennis shoe that debuted in the late 1960s when the company was formed.
Last year, K-Swiss also started marketing the model as a casual shoe and sales jumped behind its "Club K-Swiss" ad campaign. Those spots mixed scenes of young people having fun, riding bikes and washing cars, with traditional tennis footage.
Classics represents 60% of the company's sales.
Now the plan is to push its performance-based shoes by using unheralded athletes.
"We had to make the shift this year to performance," said Debbie Mitchell, VP-marketing. "It's where we see the market going. We already have a strong casual business."
K-Swiss chose largely unknown athletes, Ms. Mitchell said, because kids say they can relate to the up-and-comers far better than marquee athletes. In each spot, athletes are shown going through their actual training workouts.
At the beginning of each commercial a home page, Club K-Swiss (www.kswiss.com), is shown from the K-Swiss Web site that features photos of the athletes -- Darnell McDonald, Kris Farris, Erin Veenstra and Bill Muckalt.
THE 'CROWD FEELING'
K-Swiss said research has shown kids like the "crowd" feeling when it comes to training.
"Kids don't want to see one person because training seems lonely," Ms. Mitchell said.
By pushing its performance brand, K-Swiss is following a proven tactic: Strongly market your higher-price brands, which will ultimately sell your lower-price brands as well.
"It's a sort of halo effect -- a trickle-down effect," Ms. Mitchell said. "When you break it all down, it's about the brand."
Targeting 14-to-24-year-olds, K-Swiss will buy cable networks such as BET, ESPN and MTV; broadcast networks such as UPN and the WB; syndicated programming; and