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L.A. Gear will arm itself with Flak next month as the beleaguered athletic footwear company takes the offensive to halt a nose dive in sales and market share.

A teasing salvo of outdoor ads unveiled earlier this month-posing the question "What is Flak?"-has set the stage for an onslaught of print and TV ads in August from Ketchum Advertising, Los Angeles. L.A. Gear executives are keeping mum on the exact size.

The Flak technology is a variant of material developed to protect soldiers during the Vietnam War, said VP-Marketing Rob Apatoff.

Flak will be introduced into all L.A. Gear shoes, but the new ads, featuring athletes Wayne Gretzky and Joe Montana and rap poet Reggie Gains, will showcase three new shoes: the Juggernaut cross-trainer and two basketball shoes called the Emergence and the Nemesis.

L.A. Gear is counting on Flak to stop a downward spiral that just recently started to slow. Since 1990, the company has lost nearly $200 million and seen its market share tumble from 12% to 4.64% in '93.

This month, L.A. Gear signed an $80 million, three-year deal with Wal-Mart Stores for products designed specifically for the retailer. And the company is considering a search for an agency of record; L.A. Gear has been without one since firing Ogilvy & Mather, New York, last year.

L.A. Gear's successful lighted product line, which accounts for nearly a third of its sales, took a public relations hit earlier this month. To settle a suit with the state of Minnesota, L.A. Gear agreed to spend $70,000 to educate consumers in the state about how to dispose of the shoes, which contain toxic mercury.

But Mr. Apatoff said the controversy won't affect the product's future, saying L.A. Gear will expand the line and promote it heavily.

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