New Balance Declares Its Independence With New Global Brand Platform

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Sportswear brands have long touted their product's performance and sometimes their heritage. But New Balance is trying a new approach to differentiate its 112-year-old brand: Touting it's independence.

For more than a century, Boston-based New Balance has been an independent entity, unlike competitors Nike and Adidas, and is now highligting that fact in marketing. On Wednesday, the company will unveil its new "Fearlessly Independent Since 1906" brand platform. It's the first work from Kansas City-based VML, which New Balance tapped as global lead brand agency more than a year ago.

"As a challenger brand, we embrace the role of being the underdog—that individuality inspires the same sense of confidence in [our] consumers," says Chris Davis, VP of global marketing at New Balance. He noted that the new messaging is a call to action to customers. This is the first new messaging since New Balance's "Always in Beta" campaign in 2015.

The work will cover all consumer touchpoints, including new ecommerce typography and packaging. New Balance is also pushing out a "Declare Your Independence" marketing campaign that includes video content from Ace Content, an entertainment company. Many videos feature New Balance ambassadors such as baseball player Francisco Lindor and soccer player Rose Lavelle.

While digital only in the U.S., the global campaign will include out-of-home and TV in overseas markets like Japan. The majority of New Balance's sales are international, according to VML executives. The privately held company had $3.8 billion in revenue in 2016, up 3 percent from 2015, according to Forbes. Brands including New Balance, as well as Nike/Brand Jordan, Adidas, Skechers and Under Armour were the top-selling athletic footwear labels, based on dollar sales, in 2017, according to market research firm NPD Group. The category grew to $19.6 billion in sales, up 2 percent from 2016, NPD said Tuesday.

Despite New Balance's name recognition, many shoppers have no idea what the brand stands for, or that the company manufactures much of its goods in its own factories in the U.S., says Mike Wente, chief creative officer, North America, at VML.

"In today's market, people are looking for brands with meaning—brands with more than just 'I want to sell you something,'" he says.

In 2016, New Balance spent around $13 million on measured media in the U.S., according to Kantar Media. The company is also ramping up its events sponsorships, including the New York City and London marathons. The company suffered backlash when consumers burned its sneakers on social media in late 2016 after a New Balance executive made a comment about a trade policy that many read as pro-Trump.

The new work "is a great and accurate reflection of our values and what we stand for. That's the work we're continuing to put out and that's what consumers are looking for," said a New Balance spokeswoman when asked about any lasting lessons from the episode.

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