NIKE, REEBOK STRIDE INTO OUTDOOR SHOE ADS

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Nike and Reebok International have caught the outdoor bug, big time.

The athletic shoe giants are kicking off national ad campaigns this spring to plug outdoor footwear as both try to cash in on the hot fashion trend that's bleeding their sale of basketball shoes.

Nike alone saw basketball shoe sales dive 16.7% from an all-time high of $600 million in fiscal 1993 to an estimated $500 million in fiscal 1994, ended Feb. 28, pushing its market share back to 50% from 60%.

In May, Nike will launch a yearlong print effort touting Air Deschutz sports sandals, Air Mada outdoor cross-trainers, and Air Krakatoa hiking boots.

Nike executives wouldn't disclose creative concept or media budget, but did say the campaign is their biggest print effort ever in any category. The ads from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., may be joined by TV next fall.

Beating Nike to the punch, Reebok broke a network TV and national cable spot last week from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. Reebok's first national TV advertising in the category, the 30-second spot introduces the new Cliffhanger multipurpose outdoor sports shoe.

The commercial depicts a group of Generation Xers biking, climbing, hiking and trudging across Joshua Tree National Monument in California. The sweaty action is hilariously juxtaposed against the spot's sound track-the theme song to "The Flintstones" cartoons.

"We're targeting the hip college-age crowd who like crazy outdoor activities and who could be called `weekend escape artists,"' said Kelly Lowell, advertising director for Reebok's Fitness Division.

The commercial has also spawned a Reebok apparel offshoot, a T-shirt featuring the spot's tagline-"Yabba dabba do."

Ms. Lowell said the spot will run through September, and will undoubtedly benefit from the hype surrounding "The Flintstones" feature film opening this summer.

"But it's a total fluke, really," she noted. "We're just trying to tap into the cool, pop culture sensibilities of our target audience."

The Reebok spot could be a breakthrough for the category, as even purist outdoor marketers like Teva Sports Sandals and Timberland Co. have had trouble getting to the heart of the target audience.

Nike encountered the same problem last spring with a TV spot for its sports outdoor line from Wieden that executives now feel didn't really work.

"These are different consumers than traditional basketball shoe consumers, and they have different hot buttons. We don't really feel that we hit those buttons," said Ron Parham, Nike's director of investor relations.

Nonetheless, Nike and Reebok report booming sales of outdoor shoe lines, with Nike's sales in that category rising to $200 million in fiscal 1994.

Both, however, still trail Teva and Timberland, the leaders in the $600 million and growing category, whose products are considered the gold standard.

"In the footwear industry, there is a correlation between market share and product innovation," said John Horan, editor of Sporting Goods Intelligence.

"Nike and Reebok will have to be very creative in both product and advertising. It won't be a question of how much money they spend on media," Mr. Horan said.

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