SHOE GIANTS PUT NEW EMPHASIS ON PERFORMANCE: REEBOK EFFORT PART OF REVAMP; FILA WANTS TO GO BEYOND FASHION

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Reebok International and Fila USA are lacing up important ad initiatives to introduce new cushioning technologies in their running shoes.

Giving these efforts added importance is that the running shoe segment historically has been where athletic footwear marketers have established performance credentials.

REEBOK DMX, FILA 2A

No. 2 Reebok's launch of the DMX technology is part of its 1997 campaign to revamp product offerings and prove it can still compete with market leader Nike.

No. 3 Fila's introduction of the 2A System comes as it tries to round out its fashionable image with credible performance-a challenging balancing act in an industry where most brands find success by being either one or the other.

While neither company would disclose media for its campaign, Reebok's ad push from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, is the more aggressive and confrontational.

Print ads now in trade and consumer running magazines mention independent research that found consumers prefer Reebok's DMX Run shoe over two popular Nike running shoes, the Air Max and the Air Zoom Alpha.

In a TV spot that will break in April, Spencer White, director of Reebok's human performance engineering lab, roams the Boston area looking for runners who will trade their footwear for a pair of DMX Run shoes.

More spots will hit this fall, after DMX introduces basketball, cross-training and run/walk shoes.

LIKE THE PEPSI CHALLENGE

"It's the same concept as the Pepsi challenge," Mr. White said. "Whenever a footwear company has launched a new cushioning technology, they've done it in running, because runners are the most discerning and demanding consumers."

Additional support will come from point-of-purchase and a grass-roots effort in which "DMX Vans" will travel to key cities and get runners to sample the shoes.

Building product lines and re-establishing performance credentials are part of a back-to-basics strategy for Reebok, which saw its market share drop to 16.1% last year, from 20.8% in 1995. The DMX effort is the latest installment in Reebok's yearlong documentary-style "Reality" campaign that focuses on athletes and product.

At rival Fila, its first 2A product is a shoe endorsed by marathoner German Silva. A spot breaking next weekhas a reggae rapper extolling the abilities of the new technology but in a tongue-in-cheek fashion that seeks to preserve the brand's fashionable image.

The campaign also includes print ads and point-of-purchase displays. Like Reebok's DMX, 2A will spread into basketball, cross-training and walking shoes in 1997.

Fila's sales jumped 51.3% last year. But industry analysts believe the marketer is vulnerable because a plethora of fashion brands is now pushing into athletic footwear (AA, Feb. 3).

In light of that, Fila "is making a pre-emptive move for the middle ground," said Howe Burch, VP-advertising.

FILA MOVES INTO SOCCER

The fusion of fashion and function may be best represented in Fila's first foray into soccer, with product arriving this sat last week's sports Super Show in Atlanta.

A key part of Fila's effort to bolster its performance reputation is to diversify into new sports, albeit with limited offerings. Scheduled to appear between now and the end of 1998: outdoor and urban hiking products, additional cleated product beyond soccer and in-line skates.

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