WARNER BROS. ADS TOUT ITS WB SPORT CONCEPT: DESPITE NAME, LINE POSITIONED AS LIFESTYLE, NOT PERFORMANCE, BRAND

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Warner Bros. Consumer Products is rolling out a marketing push this month for the first products under its WB Sport brand, endorsed by top athletes like Albert Belle and Shaquille O'Neal.

The Hollywood studio's licensing wing developed the athletic-apparel concept nearly two years ago while working on "Space Jam," the 1996 hit that teamed basketball superstar Michael Jordan with Warner Bros.' animated Looney Tunes characters.

SHAQ SHOES DEBUT

The first WB Sport product, a Shaquille O'Neal signature line of basketball shoes priced below $40, began rolling out in August.

Now comes an ad campaign, crafted by Cimarron Bacon O'Brien, Hollywood, Calif., that touts both brand and product. The ads feature three WB Sport athletes, including Mr. Belle, and the tagline "True athletic gear." Outdoor ads began appearing in 10 markets last week; TV spots will begin airing later this month on MTV, The Box and classroom network Channel One.

Warner Bros. did not disclose spending, but said it will run the initial campaign through the end of the year.

Warner Bros. executives said that despite the "athletic gear" tag and performance imagery in ads, WB Sport is more of a lifestyle brand than a sports brand.

"We're a lifestyle brand, but one whose foundation is in sports and legitimized by these athletes, not their leagues or their teams," said Michael Peikoff, VP-property development, Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

"We see our brand co-existing with the Nikes and the Reeboks," added Jeffrey Orridge, a former Reebok executive who's now director of sales and sports marketing for the Warner Bros. division.

"Their products are sold through department stores and specialized retailers; we're in the mass merchants. They're performance; we're lifestyle. We see kids playing in their Nikes, but going out with friends or hanging out in WB Sport."

TARGETING 6-TO-14-YEAR-OLDS

In fact, Reebok is licensing Mr. O'Neal to WB Sport for the mass-merchant marketplace, although Warner Bros. can only use his name and image for direct mail, point-of-purchase and trade print. Mr. O'Neal will be used to target kids 6 to 14; WB Sport is compiling a database of kids and plans to send them a holiday card from Mr. O'Neal.

Warner Bros. said the Shaq shoe has been selling well since its introduction, but wouldn't provide sales figures or first-year projections. WB Sport will begin testing apparel products, marketed by Russell Athletic, at mass merchants

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