Call it a new position(ing) for the Office Linebacker.
"With Terry Tate, what we're finding is that unconventional things work," said Micky Pant, Reebok's chief marketing officer.
In an effort to undermine competitor Adidas America's corporate sponsorship of the 107th annual road race, Reebok teamed with Lincoln, Mass.-based Bennett Global Marketing Group to put temporary tattoos on the foreheads of 500 college students. The "head advertising," as Bennett calls it, features the Reebok vector logo and the phrase "The Pain Train is Coming," a reference to the fictional Tate.
The students, 100 of whom will also be wearing Tate's No. 56 red Reebok jersey, will be placed at strategic points on the 26.2 mile course near Reebok's hometown, Canton, Mass., including the start and finish lines, Heartbreak Hill and Wellesley College. Bennett Global Marketing was also attempting to get the bus drivers who shuttle runners to the starting point to wear Tate's jersey.
Reebok is picking up the cost of paying the college students, who make about $20 to $30 for three hours' work.
Reebok also paid an undisclosed sum to have four different brand messages illuminated on the side of the Prudential Building in Boston, along the marathon's course. And Terry Tate, the former football player turned office enforcer, played by actor and former pro football player Mister Rasta, will also be there, leading cheers at various points of the marathon.
All this to waylay Adidas' role in the race. Adidas is in its 15th year as the official footwear and apparel outfitter for the event. Adidas did not comment at press time.
This is not the first time Reebok has pulled a guerilla-marketing campaign on a rival. Arnell Group, New York, turned around a quick spot in February as Reebok's response to Nike's "Streaker" ad. In that commercial, Tate comes on to the field and tackles the naked intruder.
This latest effort was put together in less than two weeks. Bennett Global Marketing had success last month during the National Collegiate Athletic Association's men's basketball tournament with a similar stunt, putting the Dunkin' Donuts logo on the foreheads of college students at various sites during the event.
"I saw what they did with Dunkin' Donuts and I thought it was very innovative," Mr. Pant said.
"I was trying to think of the next event to be a part of and when I thought of the marathon I immediately thought of Reebok," said Jeff Bennett, CEO of Bennett Global Marketing. "I thought they were trying to become more aggressive with the brand, especially with the Terry Tate campaign."
The Terry Tate campaign has been a boon to the sneaker and apparel company ever since Reebok introduced the character during Super Bowl XXXVII. The commercial drew more TiVo viewings than any other segment of the game itself, and the terrytate.reebok.com Web site has drawn 9.8 million downloads of the spots and mini-films.
Mr. Pant said the company plans another Terry Tate national commercial in July, "and a fairly aggressive build-up to the next Super Bowl. We're putting a big plan together."
Mr. Pant said he is considering Mr. Bennett's suggestion of another ambush-marketing campaign at a tennis event. He did not say which tournament, but the U.S. Open in September seems a likely fit as another rival, Italy's Fila, is a corporate sponsor and one of the leading tennis shoe and apparel marketers.