GARFIELD;MJ'S STAR POWER FAILS TO GIVE RAYOVAC A POSITIVE CHARGE

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He can defy physics, floating in midair. He can hit a baseball, approximately 22% of the time. And now, we discover, Michael Jordan can speak thoughtfully about rechargeable batteries.

"Time changes," says a gentle, assuring Michael over successive shots of a vinyl record, then a CD. "Nothing lasts forever. Either you change or you get left behind. Today's technology is amazing, but the batteries got left behind. Well, Rayovac changed all of that. Renewal-they're alkaline, like regular batteries, but more advanced. You can renew 'em, reuse 'em and they come back strong. It's so easy-throw them in here. [Shot of recharger.] Why should you throw them out there? [Shot of pristine natural wetland.] Play it smart. Rayovac Renewal."

Fascinating. Michael Jordan, noted environmentalist, believes in rechargeable batteries. So who's gonna be in the backcourt for the Chicago Bulls this season..... Denis Hayes and Ralph Nader?

No doubt FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York, was thinking about the youthful, Jordan-adorin' skew to heavy battery use, but seldom has a commercial been so monumentally, ridiculously, extravagantly miscast.

Oh, it's easy to understand why any advertiser would be attracted to Michael Jordan. His deal with Nike built a multibillion-dollar luxury-sneaker category. Though Nike had long been a big player, Air Jordan propelled the company to dizzying heights. Together they hover above the rim, above the competition, transcendent and triumphant, with vast influence on sports marketing and the future of sports itself.

So, granted, he is no mere celebrity endorser-until he is taken out of context, whereupon, at enormous expense to the advertiser, he becomes a mere celebrity endorser.

Once the product connection to his phenomenal basketball skills is lost, Michael is just another charming personality with lots of screen presence compensating for an average ability to deliver lines and more likability than credibility. For instance, while his games of P-I-G with Larry Bird have made entertaining television, they hardly persuade us to believe the man is a true devotee of Big Macs. (Not that it much matters, inasmuch as the product is at best incidental to the entire series of Bird-Jordan spots for McDonald's Corp. The only thing those ads demonstrate of any note, actually, is that, yes, as has often been speculated, Michael will bet on the outcome of a basketball game.)

To see a celebrity show up not in support of but in place of an advertising idea is nothing new. The company officers get to drop names ("Helluva nice, guy, that Michael. And wicked off the tee"), the sales force gets to shake hands with him at the convention and dearly obtained star power gains at least a modicum of attention from consumers.

But the borrowed interest here is particularly egregious, because Rayovac Corp. has technology that should be attention-grabbing itself. By squandering its budget and focus on Michael, this advertiser fails to sufficiently explain or exploit the renewability advantage. It's like tossing fully charged batteries into a wetland.

For the money they spent on his contract, Rayovac could have lit up Las Vegas for a month. Probably should have, because Michael looks more awkward on a battery commercial then he did wearing spikes. But no surprise there. We already knew he can't handle the pitching in AA.

Ad Age Bulletin Board on Prodigy, or by Prodigy e-mail at EFPB35A.

Client: Rayovac Corp. Agency: FCB/Leber Katz Partners, New York.

Ad Review Rating: (2 stars)

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