Nike Builds Ad Campaign Out of Imus Controversy

Indirectly Thanks Commentator for 'Moving Women's Sport Forward'

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now Nike has entered the Don Imus fray, hoping a new ad will spark continued conversation about race in America.

Dean Stoyer, Nike's U.S. media-relations director, said the company was inspired by the women's team at Rutgers, which happens to be a Nike school.

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The sports-apparel giant took out a full-page ad in the Sunday, April 15 edition of The New York Times, followed by banner ads on several websites that indirectly thank Mr. Imus for bringing the issues of race relations and sexism to the forefront.

Fired by employers
Mr. Imus on April 4 called the Rutgers University women's basketball team "nappy-headed hos" following the team's loss to Tennessee in the NCAA national championship game. Following a national uproar that prompted a gaggle of sponsors to withdraw their advertising from his nationally syndicated CBS radio show and the TV simulcast on MSNBC, Mr. Imus was fired by both employers.

The print ad does not mention Mr. Imus by name. It reads:

Thank you, ignorance.
Thank you for starting the conversation.
Thank you for making an entire nation listen to the Rutger's
[sic] team story. And for making us wonder what other great stories we've missed. Thank you for reminding us to think before we speak.
Thank you for showing us how strong and poised 18 and 20-year-old women can be.
Thank you for reminding us that another basketball tournament goes on in March.
Thank you for showing us that sport includes more than the time spent on the court.
Thank you for unintentionally moving women's sport forward.
And thank you for making all of us realize that we still have a long way to go.
Next season starts 11.16.07.


Can be passed around
The ad was done by longtime Nike agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. Its only print execution was in the Times. This week, digital applications in the form of banner ads will run on Flip.com, Cosmogirl.com, Seventeen.com, ESPN.com, FoxSports.com and NikeWomen.com. Each digital application will allow the user to send the ad to a friend.

Dean Stoyer, Nike's U.S. media-relations director, said the company was inspired by the women's team at Rutgers -- which happens to be a Nike school. Nike pays the school's men's and women's basketball teams to wear its apparel, and the company's "swoosh" logo appears on Rutgers uniforms and warm-ups.

"They represent what is good in sports and their accomplishments should be celebrated," Mr. Stoyer said. "We believe the elevated conversations around racism, sexism, inequality and disrespect in America need to move forward and not disappear when the events of the past weeks are no longer front-page news."

Moving dialogue forward
Mr. Stoyer said Nike specifically did not use Mr. Imus' name or image in order to keep the focus on moving ahead with the dialogue, and not reviewing what happened in the previous two weeks.

Mr. Imus' words have created a debate on free speech and the First Amendment. Mr. Imus' main employer, WFAN Radio 660-AM in New York -- where he brought in an estimated $15 million to $22 million in annual ad revenue -- should have had an inkling of what might happen with the controversial Mr. Imus. Two years ago, the station placed billboards around the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area with Mr. Imus' headshot, and the caption: "First Amendment at its best. And worst."
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