Nike lures Lance past picket line for new ad push

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Nike's latest ad campaign features some unexpected elements such as an ailing elephant, a powerful gladiator and a chainsaw-wielding madman. But there's one surprise that trumps all the others: Lance Armstrong.

The Tour de France champion had been adamant about not crossing the Screen Actors Guild/American Federation of Television & Radio Artists picket line, but switched gears to star in the latest Nike campaign.

"This was not a decision made lightly," said Mr. Armstrong in a statement. "I had to balance my strong support for SAG with my commitment to Nike, a longtime sponsor who believed in me and supported me during my illness" with cancer.

The celebrity cyclist filmed the spot on Aug. 21 in Hungary (AA, Sept. 11). "In the past three months, I have turned down many lucrative opportunities to film commercials for new potential sponsors," the statement continued. "This one, for a longtime sponsor, could not be ignored."


Nike's estimated $20 million campaign from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore. debuted on NBC during the Olympic Games opening ceremony.

The new effort features both known and unknown athletes who take advantage of their physical prowess to triumph in bizarre situations. Mr. Armstrong's spot shows him resuscitating an elephant through CPR as helpless circus performers stand by. "Why sport?" is asked at the end of the ad, which is answered with: "Healthy lungs."

In a second spot, U.S. Olympic athlete Suzy Hamilton outruns a would-be killer. The ad answers the "Why sport?" question with: "You'll live longer." A third ad shows a skateboarder doing battle with a gladiator.

An additional eight to nine executions are expected by spring. One spot is scripted for golf great Tiger Woods, who recently broke the picket line to film an ad for General Motor Corp's Buick division.

Mr. Woods just renewed his contract with Nike in an estimated $85 million, five-year deal; the new pact doesn't go into effect until 2001.


The new U.S. branding effort debuts as Nike moves its recent "Innovation" campaign overseas. The "Innovation" efforts, which stopped airing earlier this month, highlighted the accomplishments of track and field stars such as Maurice Green, Michael Johnson and Marion Jones. Nike decided to shift from the concept of athletic-idol worship with its new "Why sport?" effort, according to Rebecca Van Dyck, account director on Nike at Wieden.

"We looked at the world of sport and recognized it had changed and we had to change," she said. Ms. Van Dyck noted, however, that "hero worship will always be important" and the new spots do include some professional athletes as well as ordinary individuals who participate in sports.

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