Selling of Courier more lob than blistering serve World's top-ranked player does TV ads in slower motion

February 19, 1993|By Tara Finnegan | Tara Finnegan,Contributing Writer

For Andre Agassi, there was rock 'n' roll tennis.

For Jim Courier, there is a much quieter approach.

Nike marketed Agassi with Las Vegas iridescence, but is painting Courier, the world's No. 1 player, in much simpler strokes.

There are no flashes and guitar thrashes. There's not even color (all of the commercials were filmed in black and white). It's just Jim and the camera, with you getting to know him.

Jim Courier talking about Jim Courier.

Jim Courier talking about training. About his personality. About his Washington Redskins tube socks as he describes a childhood photo.

Nike purchased 30 half-minute commercial spots that debuted during the Australian Open. The ads depict Courier as the hard-working, blue-chip athlete -- plain and simple.

"We wanted to do something based more on the game and a little more authentic to tennis," said Jamie Barrett, a copywriter for the Portland, Ore.-based firm of Wieden & Kennedy. "It's a little more down and dirty, raw and real."

"I'm very pleased with them," Courier said after losing to unseeded Derrick Rostagno, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1, in the first round of the Comcast U. S. Indoor tournament in Philadelphia on Wednesday. "None of it was scripted. It's just me talking off the cuff, so it's really me."

Said Barrett, who spent four days with Courier during the tapings in Florida: "He doesn't have the celebrity appeal Andre does -- yet. Jim is a very thoughtful and intense person. There's not a lot of flash to him, but there's a lot of substance to him."

That substance includes four Grand Slam titles -- two French and two Australian. He had won three of them before he made his first big-time TV commercial. Courier also has sponsorships with Rolex, Gatorade, Gosen (a Japanese-based company that manufactures racket strings) and DHL (a courier service).

Now, the marketing begins. He's No. 1 in the world. No. 1 on the ATP computer. He's coming off a second consecutive Australian Open title, and, this past weekend, he won the Kroger-St. Jude International.

Yet, when he played Agassi in the U. S. Open quarterfinals last year, Agassi, with image all but everything, was the favorite. Courier's response to a reporter after he won that match was a somewhat exasperated, "Look, all I can do is play the best I can."

"Nobody in tennis works harder than he does," said Dusty Kidd, who works in public relations for Nike in Beaverton, Ore. "He's not charismatic like Andre Agassi. What he does is win."

But Jim Courier's image still remains to be defined.

"When we were faced with the task of finding an image for Jim Courier, we tried to bring Jim to life and take the best of who he is," Barrett said.

The camera zooms in on Courier as he is working out with weights and running. He's playing tennis. He plays the background music in one of the commercials as the scene changes from him on the court to him in a room strumming a guitar.

And it wouldn't be a complete Jim Courier commercial without baseball.

In one spot, he is hitting tennis balls home-run style over the fence and running around imaginary bases waving his arms. In a different ad, he is recounting his daily workout routine of on- and off-court training with a baseball glove resting by his thigh.

"That's the image he wants," said Gavin Forbes, Courier's agent. "Jim is Jim, and he certainly doesn't want to be anybody else."

Barrett said he wanted the Courier commercial series to relay themes of intensity, hard work and the all-around athlete. The commericials were directed by Jon Else, a San Francisco-based director who has done work with documentaries, Barrett said.

"He's a basic blue-collar, hard-working tennis player," Barrett said.

Barrett said two more Courier commercials, which were filmed at the same time as the other three, will debut during the French Open. One explains Courier's philosophy of hard work and the other describes his relationship with the media and the obligations he has to fulfill as the top player in the world, Barrett said.

With Nike, Courier has a Supreme Court line of clothing -- pinstriped in red, Cincinnati red, like his favorite baseball team, which he had input in designing.

And now, he's got an image to go with it. Jim Courier -- the !B unlikely hero. Jim Courier -- the extra-mile going, 110-percent, all-out player who likes the American pastime and rock 'n' roll.

Jim Courier -- as is.

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