Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Balance: brand on the run

I'm a runner, and for years my favorite brand of running shoes was New Balance. It started during my Junior year of high school, when I decided to get serious about cross country. I bought a pair of red New Balance racing flats that looked cool, felt light, and seemed fast. I think it was more psychological than anything else, but after one good race I was hooked. My loyalty to New Balance continued for years, and when I started training for my first marathon, I ran in a pair of New Balance 833s. After a sub-3:30, I dubbed them my Favorite Running Shoes Ever, and I thought I'd run in New Balance for the rest of my life.

Well, it's funny how one recommendation can change your brand loyalty.
One day I visited the Three Rivers Running Company (sidebar: if you are a runner and you're looking for expert advice, go there NOW), and they didn't have any New Balance shoes in stock. But because they're great at what they do, they convinced me to try something new. And even though I thought the world would end the first time I wore Sauconys, it didn't. In fact, they felt pretty good. And light. And fast. Later, I let the TRRC guys talk me into a pair of Asics Gel-DS Trainers. All of sudden, I had a new Favorite Running Shoe Ever.

The interesting thing about my relationship with New Balance is that while the brand never really let me down, it still didn't retain me as a 100% loyal customer. Why? Part of the problem is the New Balance brand itself. It's always been kind of vanilla, lacking the intangible allure of other brands. It's not that New Balance had a
bad image--it just didn't seem to stand for anything at all. And that made customers like me pretty vulnerable to good advice from people they trust.

So, what's a brand to do when it runs into a relevance problem? Well, New Balance is investing in a new advertising campaign. And I have to admit, I think what they're doing is great. And smart.

Here's how describes the New Balance "love/hate" campaign:

In a bold bid to double its sales by 2012, New Balance is tripling spending behind a push that appeals to runners by reminding them how much they occasionally hate running.

The footwear marketer's first campaign from Onicom Group's BBDO, New York, portrays the relationship between runners and their sport as a hot-and-cold romance, a pitch it hopes will help it boost sales with 18- to 29-year-olds.

A print piece, summing up this approach, says: "Today you almost broke up with running. Today running shook you out of bed and into the deep, dark cold. Today, once again, around mile 2, lungs full of air, pupils full of sunrise, you remembered, 'Oh yeah, this is why we got together.'"
I'm older than the target audience for these ads, but being a week away from my fifth marathon, and having trained in ice, snow, cold, and rain for four months, I think this campaign gets it exactly right. There are days when I hate running. Just hate it. But the days I love it make it worthwhile. And that's exactly what keeps me going.

This campaign shows why advertising, for all its shortcomings, still has relevance. In today's cluttered communication environment, an ad has to be pretty good for anyone to notice. But if it's good, and authentic to the customer's experience, it can get noticed--and it can elicit a response.

How will the New Balance campaign affect me? On April 6, when I'm standing at the starting line of the Athens* Marathon, I'll be wearing Sauconys. But at some point, probably about 18 miles in, I'll be on that thin line between love and hate. And I'll think about New Balance, and how they understand that feeling.

Advertising that evokes that feeling is pretty rare. And that's why I think the New Balance campaign deserves to take a victory lap, ideally in a fast, light, cool pair of red racing flats.

*Ohio, not Greece. But I bet there are still a bunch of Phidippides jokes at the finish line.

Bonus coverage: The New York Times, on the science behind that love/hate feeling.


Sarah D. said...

Anthony - Nice entry...definitely agree w/ you re: what New Balance was lacking re: brand image. I actually referenced you in my blog re: New Balance's Love-Hate ad campaign. Feel free to check it out:


Robert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
runners for life said...

Very interesting - but is the campaign really a success if people think its clever, but aren't switchtching to New Balance?


I like your commentary on NB Anthony. i totally agree with you on them not doing enough to capture and keep there audience. the difference between them and other brands is the positioning the brands have in the minds of the consumers. Other brands remind you that they r great,that way u never forget that...NB doesnt remind you often enough. I am glad to see them in the advertising lane,hopefully it will put them in the winners lane!