By  on August 17, 2006

Nike is bringing Maria Sharapova to its television ads.

The Russian-born Sharapova has been a Nike athlete for more than a decade, since she was nine years old, but this Sunday marks the first time the athletic company has used her for a solo TV spot. At the Teen Choice Awards on Fox on Sunday, a week before the U.S. Open begins, the "I Feel Pretty" campaign will launch with a minute spot that plays on the tennis star's good looks.

The commercial follows Sharapova from the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to Arthur Ashe Stadium while bystanders — from hotel bellmen to opponents to sports commentators — mockingly sing "I Feel Pretty" to the statuesque blonde 19-year-old. The "West Side Story" song gains momentum as she gets closer to her match and reaches a crescendo as she hits a winning shot, letting out a characteristic grunt that silences the audience.

"The idea is that everyone just sees her feeling pretty, but really she feels pretty fierce," said Kilee Hughes, director of athletic publicity at Nike. "The ad speaks to female athletes in a strong, empowering way, so not only will it generate interest in the Nike tennis business, but it also goes more broadly and reaches the women's fitness consumer. Maria is purposely imaged in both cardio and tennis product."

Around the Open, the 30- and 60-second versions of the Sharapova ad will air on sports and youth networks, including MTV, VH1, WB and ESPN.

The campaign does not include print ads, but there is a digital marketing component through Visitors can view and blog the commercial, shop for the cardio and tennis outfit Sharapova wears in it, access original interview material with the tennis player, and take the "What's Your Pretty?" quiz to get the "I Feel Pretty" kit, which includes a suggested outfit, NIKEiD shoes, a workout song and a workout tip.

Nike is also creating a "microsite" with Hearst Publications' teen Web sites to provide insight on Sharapova as a person — from what music she likes to what she does in her spare time. Nike has executed a microsite before, in collaboration with Foot Locker, but this venture is unique in that it develops the personality of an athlete rather than a new product, according to Nike.At the Open, Nike is selling black or white T-shirts that say "I Feel Pretty (Blank)" in gold writing, allowing wearers to fill in the blank with words like "smart" or "strong." The shirts will sell for $24 and will be available through traditional retail, as well.

Nike is also selling "JBLOCK" T-shirts celebrating James Blake's cheering section; 100 percent of the proceeds from those sales will be donated to Blake's charity of choice.

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