REEBOK, NIKE SHUFFLE EXECS AS "EVIL' LURKS

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Nike and Reebok International are shaking up their marketing departments as they finalize battle plans for the second half of 1996.

Nike last week abruptly fired Joe McCarthy, director of global advertising. Both Mr. McCarthy and a company spokesman cited "differences in management philosophy."

That does not include differences over the creative work from agency Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., produced during Mr. McCarthy's two-year tenure.

The move comes just before tonight's U.S. debut of the highly controversial "Nike vs. Evil" commercial from the agency's Amsterdam office.

McCARTHY SHOCKED

Mr. McCarthy said his dismissal "was pretty surprising. I was pretty shocked."

He refused to elaborate on the reasons behind the action, but denied that long-simmering tensions with other executives had escalated into an unresolvable conflict.

Regardless, the No. 1 athletic footwear power in the U.S., now concentrating on global brand-building, has begun searching for a replacement. In the interim, regional ad directors from around the world will report to VP-Marketing Liz Dolan.

In the meantime, Nike's advertising marches on. During tonight's NCAA college basketball championships on CBS, the marketer unveils "Nike vs. Evil," in which Nike soccer endorsers from around the world violently skirmish with forces from hell.

A 90-second version will run in theaters this spring.

PANNED IN SCANDINAVIA

The spot has been banned from cinemas in Denmark because the Danish advertising standards commission says it's "unsuitable for young audiences and features excessive violence."

Ad standard authorities in Finland, Sweden and Norway are also reviewing "Evil."

Wieden shot the commercial in Tunisia as part of a pan-European marketing campaign. Its wider screening in Europe will begin in mid-May; the spot is slated to run through June.

Also, Wieden has begun shooting ads for its $35 million Olympic-theme push that will support the relaunch of Air cushioning technology.

REEBOK PROMOTES WATSON

Meanwhile, Reebok, under pressure from investors to rejuvenate its stock price and boost income, promoted John Watson from senior VP-general manager of apparel to the new post of senior VP-strategic marketing, following months of headhunting outside the company.

While Mr. Watson coordinates brand strategy from corporate headquarters, the company has opted to empower individual units to create and implement their own marketing programs.

As a result of this new setup, Dave Ropes, a six-year marketing veteran at Reebok who was overseeing media and integrated marketing, has decided to leave.

Mr. Ropes, who had been considered for the strategic marketing post, said his departure and the promotion of Mr. Watson shouldn't affect Leo Burnett Co., Chicago, Reebok's global agency of record.

After a shaky start, Burnett has created the brand's new positioning that emphasizes training and preparation. Retailers report orders of Reebok products for the back-to-school period and fourth quarter of 1996 were up significantly over last year.

Reebok is finalizing its marketing plans for the second half. The No. 2 footwear giant and 1996 Summer Olympics sponsor will launch a $30 million marketing campaign May 1 that culminates during NBC's broadcast of the Games in August.

EMMITT SMITH'S QUEST

The campaign, consisting of six TV spots, print ads, radio commercials and outdoor boards, follows Dallas Cowboys star Emmitt Smith's quest to make football an Olympic sport. Reebok hopes to shoot the final spot in the series during the Games.

While the spots are lighthearted, the quest is serious. Reebok has begun talking with other advertisers, the National Football League, the NFL's Europe-based World League and various tackle football organizations around the world to create a structure that would promote the game and even plant teams in various countries.

The company also is tying National Basketball Association star Shaquille O'Neal into its Olympic ads. Around the time of the Games, Reebok will break a spot that pairs Mr. Smith with the genie Mr. O'Neal will play in the upcoming Walt Disney Co. film "Kazaam."

`KAZAAM,' DREAM TEAM

The film opens July 17, two days before Mr. O'Neal and the rest of Dream Team 3 begin Olympic competition.

Reebok will follow that up with an estimated $25 million ad push that will run until the end of the year. The ads will center on a mentor-type character, portrayed by a celebrity, to whom Reebok athletes go for advice.

Reebok, shooting for the cultural ubiquity Nike enjoys, also is tying into a Sony Corp. flick pegged for Christmas release called "Jerry Maguire," starring Tom Cruise. The movie follows an idealistic sports agent competing against his old agency to sign a rookie quarterback.

Reebok is consulting in the development of satirical faux-Reebok TV spots that will be used in the movie, and is planning a consumer promotion with Foot Locker offering hybrid NFL/"Jerry Maguire" merchandise.

Contributing: Gerard O'Dwyer in Helsinki.

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