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Shoe marketer Vans will address alternative sports enthusiasts as one group as it launches its most aggressive marketing campaign ever.

The $25 million brand blitz, dubbed "Team Vans," hits this spring.

In linking mountain bikers, in-line skaters, snowboarders, skateboarders, wakeboarders and the like, Vans follows in the footsteps of rival Airwalk. But unlike Airwalk's 1996 "Pulp Sports" campaign from Lambesis, Del Mar, Calif., which balanced the brand's function and fashion characteristics, Vans is emulating Nike in hewing to a sports-oriented positioning.


"By looking at the audience as a whole, it creates a market that's 12 to 22, that's no longer alternative or niche but now mainstream," said Jay Wilson, VP-marketing at Vans.

Vans' big push comes on the heels of a strong 1996, when sales shot to $104 million, up 40.5% from 1995.

It also comes in the face of mounting competition. Adidas America is now aggressively pursuing the skateboard crowd. Nike, founding sponsor of ESPN's X Games, got into skateboarding sneakers last year and will move into technical snowboarding apparel this fall.

Meanwhile, Airwalk-with '96 U.S. sales of $158 million, up 25.4%-will spend upwards of $40 million in marketing this year, targeting the 12-to-24 crowd.

The print component of the Vans' effort, created by McElroy Communications, Newport Beach, Calif., launches in May and features Vans endorsers in dramatic performance shots.

The ads are linked by a common graphic-a comic book-style word balloon, coming out of each athlete's mouth, that contains the "Team Vans" logo.

"Our competitors have teams devoted to individual sports, and so do we," Mr. Wilson said. "But with this campaign, we wanted to create the idea of one single team with very individual members."


Indeed, the campaign walks a fine line in speaking to its varied consumers as a group. The six-week wave of TV spots hitting July 15 addresses Vans' target collectively, while at the same time poking fun at cheerleaders, football teams and the whole concept of teamwork.

"What we're saying is that you are your own team," Mr. Wilson said.

A consumer promotion in the works will hammer this point home via trading cards presenting Vans endorsers as sports heroes. But Mr. Wilson hopes the marketing message will reverberate beyond participants in alternative sports, just as Nike's performance-oriented positioning plays well to consumers merely interested in the sports lifestyle fashion look.


To that end, Vans will continue to penetrate the popular youth culture through its now annual Warp Tour, jointly produced with Creative Artists Agency, Beverly Hills, Calif. A promotion called "The Ultimate Summer Job" will offer three consumers the chance to be roadies during the tour. The promo begins March 21 and ends April 20, and Mr. Wilson is talking with MTV about serving as the media partner for the effort.

Vans also plans separate print campaigns targeting skateboarders (created by Soft Design, Marina del Rey) and women (handled by ONEighty Communications,

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