Dan ‘n Liu

I got a kick out of seeing the Nautica sweatband on Misty May’s forehead, but others most assuredly weren’t too pleased. The Nautica folks smartly figured that NBC’s anointment of two-women beach volleyball to a prime time sport (night after night after night…) merited a small investment, and there you have it.

Nautica trumps Nike, and Adidas while they’re at it. Of course there’s the issue of whether Misty May and the Nautica brand are even in sync, but heck, boffo ratings prevail.

There’s nothing new here of course. Companies have successfully ambushed the Olympics for years, bypassing the tens of millions of dollars the official sponsors shell out. I remember one client, a toy company, put in the hands of every U.S. Olympian the year’s hottest doll to donate to the host country’s needy children — no top-tier sponsorship required. The story, captured in an airport departure photo op, blew out big time.

I also remember the year Charles Barclay matter-of-factly quipped that he “had a million reasons” not to wear the Reebok-designed U.S. Olympic uniform. That was the year when Reebok pinned its entire Olympics campaign on two prominent decathletes whom it dubbed “Dan ‘n Dave,” for which this blogger toiled on the PR.

One problem: Dan O’Brien faltered in his final pole vault attempt at Olympic Trials and didn’t make the team. Oops, and this after New York Magazine agreed to an exclusive story on Reebok’s big plans for the decathletic duo. Sound familiar?

This go-around in Beijing, Nike was among the sponsors that saw its swooshy hopes suddenly sideswiped. Following Reebok’s lead, Nike stood by Chinese track and field sensation Liu Xiang. From today’s WSJ China Journal blog:

“In terms of advertisements, Nike was quick to respond with full page ads in domestic papers. Here’s the Chinese version: translated from a version of the ad running in today’s English-language China Daily:

Love Competition
Love risking your pride
Love winning it back
Love giving it everything you’ve got
Love the glory
Love the pain
Love sport even when it breaks your heart”

New York Magazine wound up writing the Reebok decathalon piece, folding into the story line the abrupt change in strategy. Dan O’Brien went on to win Olympic decathalon four years later.