Two executions of New Balance Campaign, "Runnovation"
Since 2009, New Balance has undergone an evolution to answer the needs of modern performance footwear companies. Focusing on gaining a younger and more active demographic, New Balance has developed relationships with major high school events, the New Balance Indoor and Outdoor T&F Champs are the defacto high school athletics championships in the U.S. New Balance support of the Leadville 100 miler is all about the symbolism: consider a 100 miler, beyond many of our expectations, but consider the inspiration.
Before one can change, there has to be a time of questioning. New Balance is asking the right questions. New Balance continues to make product that keeps its older demographic pleased, and is now bringing in a younger demographic with product that is lighter, bolder, and screams performance.
Known for its support of retailers, NBx, the New Balance version of run specialty, is developing its own content and assets to tell the story of its brand. New Balance has been grabbing iconic events, such as the New Balance Indoor, the Armory T&F, Disney events, as well as sponsoring athletes such as 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson and recently NCAA wunder woman, Emma Coburn.
New Balance ventured mainstream for several years of advertising, even going so far as launching an ad campaign during the Final 4 Basketball tournament. Most footwear companies try the venturing outside their core. Most generate some enthusiasm, but learn that, for most of them, the cost to develop these tertiary consumers are not worth the pain. Part of the NB message with their current ad campaign is this: New Balance is an expert on running, we have done this since 1912, let us help you make your running experience better.
New Balance has focused on its core with the new ad campaign. Celebrating the diversity of running, and the social aspects of running, the New York Times picked up on the campaign, siting this as a new phenomenon. The social part of running is not a new phenomenon. There are times when running or walking alone is perfect, then there are times, like a hard workout, when the collective strength of the group carries one up a hill one more time, or around the track for one more 400 meters.
To understand New Balance's commitment to the sport, one must look at their competition. Brooks gets it, they stay focused on their core: making the running experience better and keeping it fun. Run Happy, their campaign theme launched in 1999, has evolved, but the brand keeps its eyes focused on the prize: core running. ASICS America, the clear number one in running for 19 years, was over taken by Brooks 18 months ago, and ASICS is redoubling its efforts to regain that position, with Saucony, Mizuno and New Balance right behind. Nike, at $25 billion in sales, tends to see running as something that is there, and has cycles where core running is championed, and then, where it is part of the fabric of daily life. Nike invented lightweight, and Nike Free, truly a piece of training equipment, is on everyone's feet, whether they need them or not. New Balance has focused its product, and now, it is focusing an ad campaign on the social aspects of running, embracing the power of the group, but also the power of running, pure and simple. That a brand as small as Newton has developed a groundswell of passionate users shows, once again, that running shoes are sold to one satisfied runner at a time.
Most of the key running brands go in cycles, but their advertising tends to have two focuses: the loneliness of the long distance runner, or the running shoe as sex object-or a wonderfully photographed running shoe.
Real innovation in running advertising?
Well, one has to go back a few years. The adidas Equipment ad campaign, launched in 1991 by the late Rob Strasser's team in adidas US, was ground breaking. Runner's actually running, churning up hills, with the iconic adidas Equipment line. Again in 1998, the adidas, Runners, featured ten executions, one was Todd Williams changing after a race. PUMA gained notoriety in the early 2002-2003 with " You have more time to run when you girlfriend has a girlfriend". Funny, huge publicity. I have to admit the PUMA campaign gained me a call from the California Attorney General's office as someone called it pornographic. Alas, it is all in the eye of the beholder. Nike's early campaigns, such as There is No Finish Line, captured the spirit of Running for many. The early running campaigns at Nike were irreverent without trying, because Phil Knight disliked advertising, and Dan Weiden of W&K spent much of his time convincing Mr. Knight of the power of advertising. The Dan & Dave campaign at Reebok, while not really product specific, caught the consumer by storm, with t-shirts, and catapulted Reebok into the daily vernacular. There are others, but, the key is the product. A great ad campaign only goes so far if the company does not product consistent, running worthy product.
In the end, running is in another boom. This time, running is similar to the evolution in the feminist movement in the past fifteen years, where women no longer apologize if they work from home or combine work outside the house and home, or choose to focus on one or the other. Being at home is work. It is their personal choice and really, no one else's business. Running makes no apologies: you get from running what you put into it. Running is like an e.e. cummings poem: sweaty and dirty, no apologies, running hurts sometimes, and has its good days and bad days. But what is the other option? Not running?
Running changed with the Boston marathon in 2013. The iconic event was forever changed when two brothers, and whoever supported them, placed bombs, intended to harm and maim, at the finish line of said iconic event. Running and training for a marathon, after that, became an act of defiance. Truth is, running and walking have always been acts of defiance.
Getting up off the couch, putting on one's shoes, and getting outside for thirty minutes always makes me feel better. Now, for me, with type 2 Diabetes, it is about living a lifestyle that will keep me kicking for forty more plus years. If I want to live a quality life, I walk each day. My body needs it. My soul needs it.
New Balance has something in this new campaign. By giving us choices, running with a group, running by oneself, New Balance is telling the running community that they get running, live running and hope that you, the consumer, and you, the run specialty dealer will consider that, and their fine product, when you look at the six to eight brands you check out, on the average, before purchasing that $135 running shoe. New Balance is focusing on their turf, and building from it.
Runners are influencers. At a barbeque, at a mall, after a race, newbie runners go to the long timers, asking about shoes, races, training. A brand that takes its core for granted is no longer a leader.
Why is social media relevant? Well, dear reader, I will tell you. Social media allows a brand to develop a conversation, over a period of time with the brand. Media, like running though, comes in all shapes, sizes. Runners want information when they want it, how they want it and where they want it. New Balance's campaign is social, digital, and oh my gosh, in print too. Runners are highly educated, and actually read, not just on their iphones, androids and tablets, but also print magazines.
New Balance understands, as do all of the successful performance running brands, that success in running footwear business (now at $8.25 billion), is about one pair of running shoes at a time. To stay on the wall in a run specialty store, you have to sell shoes.
And the battle never stops.