Spalding Taps Kobe for ‘Infusion’ Ball, Styled as the Cure for Deflation Blues – Kobe Bryant to endorse new basketball – Brief Article – Statistical Data Included

Hilary Cassidy

They may not have been lucky enough to be stranded on a desert island with Tom Ranks, but Spalding marketers are making a splash regardless with a new basketball, the Infusion, which debuts next week in Las Vegas at the Super Show.

To get its message to its prime target, Spalding has enlisted NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant to appear in a $5 million ad campaign, twice as much as it has ever spent in the basketball category.

Almost two years in the works, the Infusion solves a dilemma that Spalding’s consumer research showed to be the No. 1 problem with basketballs: deflation over time, and the frustration of finding a needle and pump to re-inflate the ball.

The Infusion has a built-in, internal Micro Pump that pops up with a turn of the fingertip, allowing the user to add air, and twists back down to go flush against the ball.

Being introduced as an indoor/outdoor model, the Infusion meets weight, size and performance requirements of the National Basketball Association, from which it holds a license. Suggested retail price is $44.99.

“The basketball category needed an infusion of life, technology, fun,” said Dan Touhey, Spalding category director for basketball, admitting the “gadget appeal” of the pump.

“The only thing that’s changed in the last 50 years is the cover material on the ball,” said Touhey. “This is a big idea that solves a consumer problem.”

The “Secret Laboratory” ad with Bryant is a nod to 007 movies. In the spot, Bryant, known as “No. 8” (his Lakers jersey number), walks into a high-tech lab complaining of problems with his basketball. A character called “The Professor” shows him his latest invention, the Micro Pump, which he promises will give Bryant an edge, and advises him to be careful with it as “the Eastern Conference will stop at nothing to get this ball.”

Lenox, Mass.-based Winstanley is the agency

In a move to create buzz, the ad will break Feb.10 during NBA All-Star Saturday programming on TNT and air on NBC during the All-Star Game the following day. Advertising will then be dormant until the playoffs in April, when the spot will resurface to coincide with the launch of the ball at retail.

Spalding also plans an integrated promotion around holiday 2001, when 45% of basketball sales take place.

A consumer print effort in sports and basketball pubs timed to the playoffs and holidays also is in the works.

Spalding, which is in discussions with the NBA to see if it can incorporate the ball into league marketing platforms, is hoping the entry will lift basketball sales, which have been flat in recent years as participation in the sport, faced with competition from extreme sports and videogames, has declined.

Touhey noted that special attention has been paid to on-shelf presentation, with holographic packaging for the ball, purposefully off-the-cuff copy and a see-through window that shows how the pump works.

COPYRIGHT 2001 BPI Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group

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