Dr. Martens moves beyond punk roots

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Dr. Martens aren't just for mosh pits anymore. This spring, a first-time national ad campaign will introduce new, more subdued shoe styles.

The shoe company -- better known for heavy work boots popular with punks and club kids -- will break the campaign in print in April magazines. The 40-year-old brand, which recently hired London agency Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy for its global efforts, wants its U.S. ad campaign to broaden the brand's appeal. Creative Media, New York, is handling the U.S. media buy.

The effort will showcase several new styles, particularly sandals and fashion lines, such as Catwalk for women and Urban for men.

"They've traded on their heritage for quite a while. This is part of a revolution of their design," said Damian Horner, board account director at Mustoe Merriman.

Print and outdoor, tagged "Dr. Martens has the cure," will focus on a common theme -- how most people feel their feet are their least attractive feature, Mr. Horner said. The executions will feature spare, minimalist images of the sandals, which he promised would be "very different" than traditional shoe advertising.

The campaign will include print, radio, out-of-home and point-of-purchase materials. As print ads appear in April and May books, radio spots will break in April nationwide, according to Dani Zizak, the company's new national marketing manager.

EXPANDING THE BRAND

Her appointment was part of recent efforts to expand the brand's image and marketing efforts, said Martin Berendsen, CEO of Dr. Martens AirWair USA, Portland, Ore., the company's U.S. distributor.

Dr. Martens previously had done promotions on a regional basis, such as sponsoring rock concerts with local bands. But this spring, the promotions platform will go national for the first time, Ms. Zizak said. The company will sponsor a sweepstakes that will give away four-day stays in Las Vegas' Hard Rock Hotel as well as a private rock concert for the winners, and its industrial division -- which markets work shoes -- will sponsor Planet Honda, an upcoming motocross event.

While Ms. Zizak would not disclose the company's marketing budget, she did say it is a significant increase from Dr. Martens' previous spending. Dr. Martens spent $1 million in the first 11 months of 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

The company, a division of British shoemaker R. Riggs Group, began making the thick-soled work boots on April 1, 1960, in Northamptonshire, England. Initially, the "1460" boots were part of the work uniforms for British postal workers and policemen, but they caught on with punk-rock devotees on both sides of the pond.

BIG IN THE U.S.

The U.S. is Dr. Marten's largest market, making up 55% of the company's total sales, Mr. Berendsen said. He would not release sales figures for the privately owned company, but U.S. sales for 1999 are estimated at $300 million.

The company also is looking to open a New York flagship store in 2000 and may add more features to its Web site (drmartens.com), Mr. Berendsen said, but added plans currently do not include e-commerce.

While the company wants to expand sales, it will retain a strategy of limiting distribution to a handful of outlets in each market to avoid saturation, Mr. Berendsen said. Dr. Martens shoes are available through upscale department stores such as Nordstrom and Dillard's and in a limited number of specialty stores in major cities.

"We have a unique selling structure," Mr. Berendsen said. "You don't want to go to the mall and there's 19 stores all selling the same product."

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