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As a comedy duo, Mike and Spike are no Laurel and Hardy. For starters, Spike Lee does all the talking, while Michael Jordan restricts his efforts to 360 degree reverse slam dunks and other forms of basketball artistry.
But the 31 year old film maker and 26 year old athlete have formed an unorthodox and apparently successful team in an advertising campaign for Nike’s $110 a pair Air Jordan athletic shoes. The latest ads were introduced in Chicago on Friday. Big Jump in Market Share
Nike spent $40 million on advertising in 1988, says Sporting Goods Business, a trade magazine. During the year the company’s market share jumped 20 percentage points, gaining ground on Reebok, the perennial market leader, according to NPD/Smart, a market research company. Nike, based in Beaverton, Ore., had sales of $1.2 billion last year while Reebok’s sales were $1.79 billion.
Basketball shoes alone accounted for $213 million, largely on the popularity of the Air Jordan line. The company said Friday that it had signed the Chicago Bulls star to a contract to promote Air Jordan shoes for the rest of his professional career. A spokesman for Nike would not say how much the contract is worth, but said it is a multimillion dollar agreement.
The Air Jordan ads are part of a campaign stressing high performance. In addition to Mr. Jordan, Nike uses Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers to promote another line of basketball shoes. The company has hired well known directors like Mr. Lee and Leslie Dektor to direct ads in recent years.
Mr. Lee became a celebrity three years ago when his first movie, a low budget comedy entitled ”She’s Gotta Have It,” was a surprise hit.
Mr. Jordan and Mr. Lee first got together in late 1987 to film two spots that were first aired during last year’s National Basketball Association all star game. Following an enthusiastic response, Nike decided to bring them together again.
Filmed by the cinematographer who shot the movie, the three new ads have the same grainy black and white picture, choppy editing and roving camera work.
Ads for Nike’s basketball shoes all have that gritty texture. ”Our ads have a controversial edge,” said Liz Dolan, a spokesman for Nike. ”We’re not afraid of scaring off people.”
In the new ads, Mr. Lee plays his cinematic alter ego, Mars Blackmon, the star of ”She’s Gotta Have It.” Mars touts Air Jordans to the viewer; Mr. Jordan is seen in the background executing a sequence of preternaturally graceful moves on the court.
In one spot, titled ”Can, Can’t,” Mr. Lee reassures the public that everyone can own a pair of Air Jordans, even if nobody can tear up the basketball court like Mr. Jordan.
In another, he complains that Nola, the beautiful heroine in ”She’s Gotta Have It,” is attracted to the suave Mr. Jordan rather than the nervous nonstop talker Mars. Tracy Camila John reprises her role as Nola in the film.
The ads were conceived by Wieden Kennedy, a small agency based in Portland, Ore., that has a reputation for innovative advertising. Jim Riswold, an associate creative director at Wieden Kennedy who wrote the ads, said he and a colleague were inspired to cast Mr. Lee and Mr. Jordan after seeing ”She’s Gotta Have It.”
”We saw this as a way to have fun with Michael,” Mr. Riswold said. ”We wanted to present the human side of him, not just the magnificent dunking machine.”
For Mr. Lee, who financed his first film independently after struggling unsuccessfully for the support of a studio, the ads affirm his status as a major black artist.
Mr. Lee said he regarded Mr. Jordan’s willingness to collaborate with him as a courageous move. He said successful blacks are sometimes hesistant to promote other blacks, particularly those with opinions that might be perceived as controversial.