- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"There were people, going into this project, who were afraid of him," says Steve Neely, Levi's ad man at Foote, Cone & Belding in San Francisco. "He'd just done Do the Right Thing. Mo' Better Blues was just coming out, and people were wondering if it was going to be weird."
Levi's had Spike shoot a trial ad—he used two kids who speak fluently backwards—and the company was hooked. Notably, though, neither Spike's name nor his face was used in the televised ad, only his voice.
"Nike took a risk, I suppose," says Riswold, "but that risk probably appealed to some people, especially [Nike president] Phil Knight. He likes to keep people on their toes."
What both Levi's and Nike found out is that Spike sells. "Part of what makes him work in the core market we're going after [14 to 24 years old] is his rebelliousness and candor," says Levi's Dan Chew. "If anything, it's helped."
What makes the Nike ads work is pure Walter Mitty. Here is the world's biggest sports fan getting in some serious hang time with the world's biggest sports star. It's midget observing miracle, and every short guy who could never jump—white or black—relates. We all know that there isn't a shoe made that's going to help us dunk (who has less of a chance of dunking than Mars?), so we're in it for the laughs. In this way, neither Spike nor Mike is stained as a geeky shoe salesman. Hey, they were probably wearing the shoes in the first place.
Riswold: "I think every ad leaves this ultimate fan trying to decide which he likes more, Jordan or the Jordans, the player or the shoes." Even better, Nike lets Spike poke fun at not only Jordan but Nike itself. Whether it's Mars asking, "Yo, Money, what makes you the best player in the universe? Is it the shoes?" or Jordan trying to understand a "limited earth orbit" or Jordan dressing up as Spike in the wish-from-a-genie spot, each ad is designed to show Jordan to be as human as Mars. Hey, these pro guys are tall enough without standing on a pedestal.
The Spike and Mike Show has left Nike's competitors in the $5.5 billion sneaker industry with their leather tongues hanging out. Now, instead of just hawking their own shoes, the other companies are chasing the leader. "Air out" is the new catchphrase with which Reebok assaults Jordans. "Hot air" is Converse's. Even Magic is trying to go street chic, though in his L.A. Gear advertisement he comes off as Millionaire Taking Drive to Ghetto. "I like Magic," says Spike. "But those ads suck."
And, yo, even 6'10" basketball coaches like to hang with Spike. Here come Mutt and Jeff now, Thompson and Spike chatting in the innards of the Meadowlands, Thompson's huge arm resting on Spike's shoulder yards below. And you can hear Spike saying, "Coach, two? On the 24th? O.K. coach? Two?"
Georgetown will be at St. John's next Saturday.