Friday, March 28, 2008

Balancing Act: New Balance Says "Don't Be A Hater"

Can convincing your consumer to become more of a lover and less of a hater strengthen your brand identity?
Watching the NCAA tournament over the past month, many of you may have noticed the latest New Balance ads (by BBDO New York). One commercial starts out showing a man in bed who later is seen running in the dark. "Running kicks you out of a warm cozy bed and into a cold hard world...Every day is a question of your commitment." In another, called “You Broke up with Running,” there’s a guy sitting in a park watching people run by him. "You broke up with running last week. And now you see running everywhere. Looking really, really good." He’s envious of the runners who made the choice to run while he sits eating fast food on a park bench. Strike a chord with any of you?

New Balance, tired of being outrun and out marketed by Nike, plans to triple its ad spending in an attempt to double sales by 2012 (to reach $3B globally). Sure it’s a lofty goal, especially when you think of how Nike has been a dominant player in the athletic-shoe category and has only increased it market share over the years. So how is New Balance going to "do it" (no pun on Nike's 'Just Do It' tagline intended)? reported that the company has come out with a new campaign - the Love-Hate campaign - to chase casual runners and hit home with 18- to 29-year-olds (their current loyal customer base tends to be serious runners over the age of 30).

So what has the New Balance brand looked like over the years? Their website says they have “been a brand concerned with meeting the needs of the everyday athlete…a superior product will sell itself better than any superstar athlete ever could.” In 2005, The Boston Globe reported that “instead of hiring sports stars to pitch shoes, Boston's New Balance has a philosophy of ''Endorsed by no one." Instead of focusing on fashion and teenagers, as many rivals do, New Balance...emphasizes function, something his baby-boomer customers appreciate.” In 2004, Ageless Marketing by Marketeer David Wolfe argued that “New Balance’s success in projecting values that resonate across generational divides led it to having faster growth rate in market share among consumers under age 40 than either Nike or Reebok.” The blog even highlighted marketing techniques used by Nike and New Balance and claimed New Balance was attractive to the older consumer set because they had more "feminine" values. Source: Ageless Marketing, 2004
So what is it about the Love-Hate campaign that should hit home with a broad consumer base? Well, what is one of the most important things behind an effective ad campaign - finding something that taps into a key insight about the consumer. If you visit the New Balance website, the first message that pops up says “For every runner there’s a constant struggle between pain and pleasure. Between good days and bad. Between LOVE and HATE....Feel the LOVE. Feel the HATE.” I think New Balance has figured out something that hits home with both serious and casual runners.

The ads have met some criticism, however. For example, on WonderBranding: Marketing to Women, Michele Miller states “Corporate New Balance has made a conscious decision to move completely away from the older demographic and are going for, in their words, ‘young runners’…It just breaks my heart that this is the direction they are going in.” Marketeer David Wolfe responds “They have committed a classic marketing error of stupendous proportion: departing from the brand’s traditional essence. Rarely do brands succeed in making so sharp a break with their past...Not since the ill-fated “It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile” campaign have I seen such a display of ignorance of the psychodynamics of brand management. Someone needs to get to Jim and Ann Davis (NB’s majority owners) before it is too late.”

So why don’t I agree with Michele and David? I don’t see these ads as being young (i.e. only appealing to a high school/college-aged demographic). I see them pinpointing a key insight in to how people feel about running. Running is challenging. And it does make you feel guilty about having an on-off relationship with it. It’s a struggle any person who has ever run - even just once - can relate to. And it's a universal feeling - i.e. not gender or age specific. The ads attempt to make you believe that New Balance shoes will help you find a way to love your support group. None of the other shoes will give you that balance between LOVE and hate.

Since I was able to find criticizm of the campaign, I decided to do some searching to see what other opinions were out there. I found a couple of runner’s forums and noted very positive comments about the campaign. On a triathalon forum, one user said “There's something about the guy sitting with a generic bag of fast-food in this one that really appealed to me. Could be that I'm that guy right now.” On one runner said “love the ads...gave me the push I needed to get out the door on Friday night,” while another said “Totally! Great ads - bring some light to the sport of running... finally.” On SoundBite Back, Anthony Juliano (who happens to be a runner) talks about how he fell out of love with New Balance. “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.” Dead on.

Sure the ads could be improved by focusing more on why the New Balance shoe will help switch the balance to give you more love and less hate for running (ex/ shoe design, comfort, maybe even an online users community for you to get support/find running partners). But it’s only the beginning of the campaign, and New Balance has given themselves some great building blocks.

So marketing critics, what do the rest of you think?

1 comment:

Anthony Juliano said...

Hi, Sarah--thanks for referencing my post. One follow-up item: a friend of mine said she is 100% loyal to NB because of their product (specifically the wide variety of widths they offer), and she says the advertising doesn't make a difference. While I agree that no brand can be successful without a stand-out product, I think when the consumer has multiple great products to choose from (and I think that's the case with running shoes), the brand is the difference maker most of the time.

Another difference between me and this friend: I'm a fairly serious runner; she's a casual walker. I want shoes that I feel will make me better--and that means they'd better "understand" running. I think NB is catching on to that with an authentic idea that makes them seem more attuned to runners' needs. That may alienate some walkers, but they're smart in trying to not be all things to all people.