NIKE SETS HEFTY AD BUDGET FOR LAUNCH OF NEW ALPHA LINE: BRAND WILL BE USED TO TOUT INNOVATIONS

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Nike late this year will launch Alpha, a new product line it claims will market the most innovative of its footwear, apparel and sports equipment.

Alpha will represent 20% of Nike's product mix starting in 1999.

The brand's launch will be backed by a significant portion of Nike's 1998 media budget, said Mark Parker, VP-product and brand marketing. For the first nine months of 1997, Nike's total ad spending hit $167 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Nike's two agencies will create advertising for the Alpha products in the categories they handle. Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, works on women's sports, apparel, ACG outdoor items and retail; Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., does Nike's other products.

It's likely Nike will mount a branding campaign to introduce Alpha; it hasn't been determined which agency would handle that.

Set apart from the swoosh, Alpha has as its symbol an expanded ellipsis of five dots. On the first apparel products, the word Alpha will be emblazoned over the symbol, but eventually the word will be phased out. Nike hasn't determined how the symbol will be used in ads.

FIRST WITH INNOVATIONS

New technologies and innovations will be introduced through the Alpha line before being introduced into swoosh and ACG products. Nike will introduce Alpha shoes with four new footwear technologies in December.

Also, the company's primary apparel technical feature, called Nike F.I.T., is being renamed Alpha.

The concept behind Alpha isn't new to the industry, but not many companies communicate their versions of Alpha as aggressively as Nike intends to -- at least not yet.

Adidas AG, for example, has marketed its premium products -- such as its growing family of Feet You Wear shoes -- under the Adidas Equipment label. But Adidas Equipment doesn't have a logo distinct from the company's three-stripes logo.

While all Adidas advertising showcases Adidas Equipment prod-uct, it isn't communicated as such. However, Adidas plans to launch its first standalone Adidas Equipment campaign next year via agency Leagas Delaney, San Francisco.

Nike expects the Alpha line to accomplish other objectives for Nike. It gives the company a premium-priced line it can sell exclusively through specialty retailers. This may free up Nike to sell swoosh products in channels such as mass merchants.

Alpha also gives Nike a new way to talk about itself. For years, Nike has used the swoosh to tell both brand and product stories.

Mr. Parker said Alpha will relieve pressure on the swoosh, a dilemma produced by Nike's drive to put its brand mark everywhere.

"There's been an overexposure of the swoosh," said Mr. Parker. "You see jokes in the comics strips about its ubiquity."

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