Adidas ad: SI says `no’ to male nudity

Adidas (Canada) has cancelled all its remaining advertising in the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated after the magazine's New York-based publisher and managing editor refused to run a double-page spread of a nearly nude Toronto soccer team promoting a new line...

Adidas (Canada) has cancelled all its remaining advertising in the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated after the magazine’s New York-based publisher and managing editor refused to run a double-page spread of a nearly nude Toronto soccer team promoting a new line of uniforms.

The Adidas (Canada) advertisement was scheduled to appear in the magazine’s second Canadian edition published in May and distributed only to Canadian readers.

The offending ad, a photograph of The North York Kick of the Canadian Soccer League, does not show the players’ genitalia as 10 of the 11 players hold their hands in front of their pubic area. The goalkeeper holds a soccer ball in front of his. All players wear adidas soccer shoes.

Sports Illustrated’s Managing Editor Mark Mulvoy and the magazine’s publisher, Don Elliman, were travelling – Elliman in Europe – and could not be reached for comment by press-time.

Doug Hayes, vice-president of marketing and sales at adidas (Canada), says to introduce his firm’s new line of soccer apparel the sports equipment maker decided on a campaign of ads in the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated.

The first was a photograph of adidas founder Adi Dassler, examining a soccer shoe, which ran in the April edition.

For the second ad in the series, Hayes says adidas Canada wanted something that would really make people sit up and take notice and say there is something new from the company.

However, because adidas (Canada) only found out the Friday before the second issue of the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated was due to go to press that Mulvoy and Elliman had rejected the soccer team ad, Hayes says his company suffered considerable grief.

‘We missed the issue,’ Hayes says. ‘We couldn’t identify our contest winner [who had to identify Adi Dassler from the first ad] in a timely manner, and we felt we’d been fairly seriously wronged in this case.

‘I guess the sentiment that concerns us the most, well there are a number of contentious issues,’ he says.

‘When we first found out that this ad had been vetoed, our reaction was disbelief in that we didn’t even find this ad offensive.

‘We had shown this ad to a number of people, both around the office and to our customers, and, without exception, the response to it was, `Jeez, it’s cute, it’s fun. What’s the issue?’ ‘

Hayes says a meeting was called with adidas (Canada)’s ad agency, Young & Rubicam in Toronto, Michael Davey, associate advertising sales director from Sports Illustrated in New York, and the company.

Hayes says at the meeting he set out the adidas (Canada) position on the ad and sought an explanation from Davey.

Hayes says Davey told him adidas (Canada) was not the first company to have an advertisement turned down and showed him another rejected ad from Teva, a u.s. maker of sports sandals.

Also, Hayes says, Davey told him in the adidas (Canada) case it was male nudity that gave offence.

Out of that meeting came a Sports Illustrated ‘make good’ offer for the rejected advertising.

In the June issue of the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated, adidas (Canada) ran two single, black-and-white, full-page ads for Copa soccer shoes.

Hayes, who cautions he is not engaging in a vendetta with Sports Illustrated, says the nature of the magazine’s make good offer led adidas (Canada) to believe the publication did not take his company’s concerns seriously.

‘If Sports Illustrated doesn’t want our business with this type of ad, then I don’t think that’s where we want to be,’ he says.

Davey, in an interview from New York, says that when Henry Luce founded Time (now Time-Warner, owner of Sports Illustrated) in the u.s. 70 years ago, he set forth the principal that the publisher and managing editor of a company magazine could accept or reject anything for publication based on their own desires.

Davey, who cautioned he could not speak for someone else, says it is likely differences between Canadian and American tastes and attitudes were taken into account when the decision to refuse the adidas (Canada) ad was made.

He says Mulvoy has probably been to Canada 150 or 200 times. Mulvoy is a former hockey, golf and baseball beat reporter.

Alvaro Saralegui, general manager of Sports Illustrated in New York, admits the criteria to reject an advertisement are subjective and that the magazine is open-minded enough to acknowledge there are other points of view.

Saralegui says Sports Illustrated would prefer adidas (Canada) to have its say and leave it at that. He notes adidas is an important advertiser in Sports Illustrated in the u.s.

Sandra Berry, managing director at Time Canada in Toronto, says the sales force for the Canadian version of Sports Illustrated cannot really give an opinion whether an advertisement is acceptable or not.

‘It is always, always the editor’s opinion in the final analysis, and that goes back to the Luce charter,’ Berry says.