L.A. GEAR TAPS SNEAKER VET CHIAT

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L.A. Gear has finally found a running partner for its long jog back into the ranks of the athletic footwear elite: Chiat/Day.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based shoe marketer, slowly rising out of a pit of unprofitability, awarded the Venice shop its $20 million account last week. L.A. Gear had been without an ad agency since firing Ogilvy & Mather, New York, last year.

Chiat's first task will be to create a new image for the L.A. Gear brand, one that unifies the different women's and children's lines. An outdoor, print and TV campaign will hit in February. With minor revisions, L.A. Gear will use the creative that Chiat pitched in the review.

A separate effort for L.A. Gear's recently introduced Flak athletic brand will hit at the same time.

"Over the past three years, we've done some terrific advertising for our various products, but it didn't present a consistent image of the brand," said Robert Landes, exec VP at L.A. Gear. "Building equity in the brand is now of primary importance."

The company needs it. Fashionable among women and teen-age girls in the 1980s, L.A. Gear has teetered on becoming an anachronism in the '90s, relicized by changing trends and aggressive competitors.

As L.A. Gear's stature declined, so did its profitability; since 1990 the marketer has lost $200 million and seen its share slip from 12% to 4.64%.

But L.A. Gear is selling more shoes and losing less money this year, thanks to lower prices, cost cutting and the success of its lighted product.

Through three quarters in 1994, sales have reached $331 million, up 8.9% from the same period last year.

Chiat is a smart choice for L.A. Gear, given the agency's experience with Nike and Reebok International, which it handled at different times during the past decade. For Reebok, Chiat created the "Planet Reebok" umbrella marketing concept.

L.A. Gear starts a second wave of advertising next month for its Flak brand. Ketchum Advertising, Los Angeles, was hired just to introduce the brand with outdoor, radio and TV ads.

Also, a spot created in-house for Light Gear and L.A. Lights starts at Thanksgiving.

Western Media International, Los Angeles, remains L.A. Gear's media buying agency.

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