This week’s announcement that New Balance is shifting its campaign and advertising focus to a younger crowd has been met with skepticism, if not downright infuriation.
With the entrance of New Balance’s new CEO, the company is doing what resembles a 180-degree spin on strategy, with a new advertising campaign centered around the love/hate relationship people have with running. And it’s not just people, but high schoolers – a far cry from the “boomer” and “everyday person” New Balance has built its success on.
An article in Monday’s Marketing Daily quotes Christine Madigan, director of global branding and brand management:
"We've always stood for performance and authenticity," Madigan says, "and we still stand for that 100%." But with the ambitious goal of doubling its $1.63 billion in sales in the next five years, it was time to reach out to a new audience, especially high school athletes. "Running may not be their main sport, and they may not even like it. But they know that if they want to win at basketball or lacrosse, they have to excel at running. Better running makes you a better athlete, and they know that."
For an expert’s opinion, I turned to my friend and colleague David Wolfe, esteemed (and brilliant) marketing strategist, who has championed New Balance in his best-selling books Ageless Marketing and Firms of Endearment. With his permission, I publish our email exchange here:
To: David Wolfe
From: Michele Miller
Date: March 25, 2008
Re: New Balance’s New Campaign
Since you have been a champion of New Balance over the years, I thought I’d send this information your way. 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.” The campaign is called, “Love/Hate” – all about the love/hate relationship people have with running.
Here is an article on the new campaign: read it here.
Here's one of the TV ads they’ve come up with: watch here.
It just breaks my heart that this is the direction they are going in. Just thought I’d share with someone who has given a damn about the company in the past.
To: Michele Miller
From: David Wolfe
Date: March 25, 2008
Re: RE: New Balance’s New Campaign
Give me a call and I’d be happy to share my reactions. 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. It’s like walking down the street one day, seeing your best friend and quickly learning that some brain trauma has robbed him of the personality you’ve known him by for years. It would shake you up monstrously. 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.
I posted a brief response this morning at the Dim Bulb blog: read it here.
Guess I should do a blog posting on the issue as well.
Thanks for sending, especially the link to the commercials. I had not seen them.
Thank God for people like David who don’t have to worry about mincing their words. (By the way, you have read his books and blog, right? They are MUST reading for marketing in this generation!)
I fear this is going to be a disaster of gargantuan proportion for a company that I like very, very much. Will this be another Vital Radiance episode? Will New Balance be listening to customers and monitoring the Internet for reaction? We can only wait and see… and hope.