Madison+Vine: Dr. Martens targets teens with Web films

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Dr. Martens is counting on a series of cinema-verite Internet films to rediscover its coastal cool.

In an effort to reconnect with teen and 20-something influencers, Dr. Martens this month breaks its first campaign in four years, an estimated $10 million global effort centered on six mini-documentaries breaking on the Web. Each tells the story of individuals who, as the tagline states, "Veer outside of ordinary."

Once the darling of the skinhead and grunge crowd-and celebrities from Madonna to the Pope-Dr. Martens and its famous work boots had stepped aside as trendsetters have moved toward more casual, softer athletic-style footwear.

"Their challenge is no different from Levi's," said one veteran shoe-marketing executive. "They haven't found the hook" to reach the fickle teen audience, he said. While strong in Texas and the Midwest, the brand had lost its place among trendsetters on the coasts.

After losing money in 2002, the privately held footwear firm set out to turn its fortunes around by 2007. Dr. Martens brought in new management, including former Nike executive Bobbie Parisi, now global marketing director. It regrouped its design and marketing team in London, leaving only U.S. sales and marketing executives in Portland, Ore.

Starting from the ground up, it has overhauled its manufacturing process, moving it from Europe to Asia, where Dr. Martens has been able to put more flexibility into the type of shoes it designs, as well as into the stiff materials used in its hard-to-break-in work shoes. The brand also may add leather accessories such as handbags and belts to its line.

"We're already seeing our business improve," Ms. Parisi said.

In the five-minute black-and-white films, director Doug Pray explores the souls of a variety of people with unusual jobs or avocations. In "Sidewalk Gallery," he follows a London painter who creates dozens of abstract self-portraits and then gives them away. Other subjects include a struggling female DJ; a maimed motorcycle messenger; and a structural engineer who climbs to the top of the world's tallest bridge and rappels down.

personal stories

Unlike BMW Films, which showed off its cars in high-speed auto chases, at no point are the shoes highlighted or mentioned in these very personal stories. The only sign of advertising is a production line reading "A Dr. Martens Films Project."

Ms. Parisi said the marketer turned to the documentaries because Dr. Martens "is known for originality and individuality" and the films "are more authentic and honest and parallel our brand. We have created a media to talk to our consumers," an 18-35 target of both men and women, she said.

Vince Engel, co-founder and creative director at agency BuderEngel and Friends, said the film format was chosen and the brand kept a lower profile to "target influencers" found on the coasts. BuderEngel is the former San Francisco office of Leagas Delaney, which managers bought out a year ago. Leagas Delaney works with the Dr. Martens brand in London.

The films will also be shown on Spike TV, the Independent Film Channel and on 15 college campuses. It will also be promoted in in Sports Illustrated's campus editions.

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