New Balance to Challenge Nike With Its Biggest Ad Campaign Ever

New Balance Ad Campaign
Source: New Balance via Bloomberg

New Balance is planning an advertising blitz that’s twice as big as any in its 109-year history, taking aim directly at Nike Inc.

On Wednesday, the sneaker company will begin its first global campaign, including television spots throughout the U.S. and other large markets -- an attempt to become a truly international, multisport athletic brand like its rival with the Swoosh. While long known for running shoes and casual footwear, New Balance has recently branched out into soccer, baseball, tennis and cricket.

“It’s an effort to position our brand up against the biggest in our category in footwear, apparel and accessories and in multiple sports,” said Rob DeMartini, who’s been chief executive officer of New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. since 2007.

The closely held company wants to boost its annual sales growth, which averaged 15 percent over the past five years. Revenue reached $3.3 billion in 2014 and will approach $4 billion this year, DeMartini said. That means it’s already growing faster than Nike, the world’s largest sporting-goods maker. That level of revenue would also put it above Under Armour Inc., a company more often cited as Nike’s biggest threat.

Even with that growth, Boston-based New Balance realized it was headed down a risky path of becoming too associated with fashion. While many companies dream of turning into a lifestyle brand, being trendy can be fleeting, DeMartini said. That’s why New Balance needs to solidify itself as an athletic brand based around performance products, he said.

Avoiding the Cycle

“In the lifestyle business, there is a cycle to it,” DeMartini said. “Sometimes you’re in, and sometimes you’re out.”

New Balance also is heavily reliant on running shoes, something it’s looking to change. It’s a huge category in the U.S. but not as big overseas. In February, New Balance branched out into soccer by signing endorsement deals with 10 players, including Vincent Kompany of Manchester City, and one of the world’s most popular clubs in Liverpool. The company declined to say how much it’s spending on the marketing effort.

“Our goal is to be in the top three of global athletic brands,” DeMartini said at the time. “And to get to the top three, we have to be in the world’s biggest sport.”

New Balance, founded in 1906, also wants to appeal to younger buyers. Since teenagers and 20-somethings are the ones competing in sports, focusing more on performance shoes will get help the attention of those shoppers.

The ad campaign, which includes the first television commercials in about four years, will reach the 70 countries where New Balance distributes products. The TV spot features 17 athletes in various sports around the world.

“It’s not the locker room, chest-beating testosterone position that some would take,” DeMartini said. “It’s not the position that worships athletes. It’s a position that recognizes that our job is to constantly make better products to help athletes get better. It does differentiate us.”

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