Wednesday, January 29, 2003 Updated: January 30, 10:53 AM ET
A twist of Tate
By Darren Rovell ESPN.com
Terry Tate put a licking on a slacker playing solitaire. He roughed up an employee who forgot to put a cover page on a TPS report. He knocked out a co-worker who neglected to make a new pot of coffee.
Terry Tate isn't afraid to dish out a little pain for corporate gain.
It's been three days since Tate was first seen pointing his finger in the face of a terrified co-worker while screaming "You kill the Joe, you make some mo!" as the "office linebacker" in Reebok's 60-second Super Bowl ad. And though the commercial continues to be a hit on the Internet, the true impact to the sports apparel giant's bottom line may yet be felt.
Critics said it was difficult to determine the ad's effectiveness because the commercial lacked a strong connection to Reebok's brand. While Reebok's logo made few appearances throughout the ad, Tate's fictional employer, Felcher & Sons, was constantly mentioned.
To that point, USA Today's Super Bowl Ad Meter revealed that only 55 percent of respondents recalled that Tate was affiliated with Reebok.
Still, Micky Pant, Reebok's chief marketing officer, said he believes Sunday's $4 million advertising spot already has paid for itself. The company reports that its online sales have quadrupled in recent days and as of Wednesday afternoon, more than 670,000 people have watched the four-minute video on either Reebok.com or TerryTate.com.
"The Zebra and Clydesdales commercial has nothing to do with beer," Pant said. "We are just using this as a platform to greater things, but there was some relevance in that Terry was wearing a Reebok jersey and we sell over $1 billion in clothing every year."
Pant found out the hard way just what a hit Reebok's Super Bowl commercial would become.
Just as the Reebok executive unveiled the advertising spot during a global sales meeting, Tate, the red-jerseyed office linebacker bearing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor's No. 56, flattened Pant with a bone-crunching tackle.
Bloodied, bruised, but not deterred, Pant knew the commercial would become a hit based on the reaction of others in the meeting. Still, he said he was too scared to watch the commercial when it ran during the third quarter of the Super Bowl.
Much in the way that Budweiser used its talking frogs and Coca-Cola used polar bear to sell merchandise, Reebok could realize immediate returns from a limited amount of Tate jerseys that will hit stores in two weeks. Supply could increase if demand is high, but Pant said the jerseys represent a marketing opportunity the company can't pass up, but Reebok does not expect huge revenues from it.
"He's been a big buzz in this industry," Pant said. "We're not going to kill the golden goose."
Over the next month, Reebok will role out three more four-minute films on its Web site featuring the Terry Tate character. In one of the films, Tate goes on vacation and proves that his skills aren't limited to the office when he notices inefficiency at the hotel and dramatically improves the workplace environment.
The hulking Lester Speight, who plays Tate, was a Division I-AA All-American at Morgan State and claims he once ran a 4.23 40-yard dash when he was 235 pounds. He's now an actor who has played a security guard in "Any Given Sunday" and a prisoner on "The Young and the Restless."
Since Sunday, Speight -- who was a former professional wrestler -- has been in demand. In addition to his appearances on the "Today Show," CNBC, BET and ESPN, Speight is scheduled to ring the closing bell on the New York Stock Exchange on Friday.
"It's unmatched to anything I've done," said Speight, who would not comment on the terms of his deal with Reebok. "Someone needs to send me a dictionary so that I can find one word for everything that is happening right now. It's bigger than anything I could ever imagine."
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org