Jordan heads band of famous faces in Super Bowl ads

By Michael McCarthy and Theresa Howard, USA TODAY

NEW YORK – Super Bowl advertisers want viewers to “Be Like Mike.” Again.

Michael Jordan, the longtime endorsement king lately eclipsed by Tiger Woods, has been out of the Big Game since 1997. But he’ll be back in commercials for two companies – Hanes and Gatorade – in ABC’s broadcast of Super Bowl XXXVII on Jan. 26.

Jordan’s return coincides with a comeback in Super Bowl ad prices: $2 million to $2.2 million for 30 seconds, up 10% to 15% from last year, when the Sept. 11 attacks and the economy cast a pall over advertising’s top event. Ad time is “90% sold out,” with only six 30-second spots in the second half left, says Ed Erhardt, ad sales chief for ESPN and ABC Sports.

Jordan, 39, “is not the corporate endorser he was in the ’80s and ’90s, but remains an international icon,” says Abraham Madkour, editor-in-chief of The Sports Business Daily. “After his retirement from the NBA, I expect he will hold the title of ‘Endorser Emeritus.’ ”

Hanes, in its first Super Bowl ads since 1985, has teamed Jordan with action star Jackie Chan in a 30-second, second-quarter spot for its Tagless T-shirts by The Martin Agency, Richmond, Va.

“When you see Michael wearing a T-shirt, people automatically assume it’s a Hanes ad,” says John Ceneviva, senior vice president of branding. Jordan has been pitching Hanes underwear and socks since 1987 and will do so past retirement, Ceneviva says. “We don’t use him as an athlete. We use him as a person.”

Gatorade will reprise a special-effects Jordan spot from Element 79 Partners in Chicago that aired first on New Year’s Day. It shows today’s Michael challenged by a young NBA Michael, circa 1987. The twist: As they finish, a still younger Michael, as a University of North Carolina Tar Heel, ambles onto the court.

Gatorade coined the slogan “Be Like Mike” for its first Jordan ads in 1991. Cindy Alston, vice president of communications, hopes viewers will watch the re-aired spot “over and over and never get tired of it.”

Jordan leads a growing cast of celebrities who’ll be in Super Bowl ads, including Willie Nelson for H&R Block, Chan, the Osbournes for Pepsi Twist and possibly singer Beyonce Knowles for Pepsi.

Nelson lampoons his well-known, real-life troubles with the Internal Revenue Service in a first-quarter spot by agency Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. It opens with Nelson rejecting an offer to endorse “Smoothie” shaving cream. He quickly reverses when he learns tax errors have him owing $30 million. Cut to Nelson on the set of an ad shoot with shaving cream all over his famous beard. “My face is burning,” Nelson tells anyone who will listen.