Acquires 'Pony' Name, Announces 'Anti-Marketing' Campaign

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LOS ANGELES ( -- The Firm, a major Los Angeles-based music management company, representing the likes of
Photo: AP
Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland in concert.
Korn, N*SYNC, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park, has expanded into an unusual deal to revive the 1970s Pony brand of athletic shoes.

The Firm will use its roster of artists to promote the Pony name, which The Firm bought earlier this year from the U.K.-based Pentland Group. The original Pony company went out of business in the early '80s.

Using its knowledge of youth marketing, The Firm wants to build Pony the way it would an new band. It will use a street "anti-marketing" approach to attract the targeted audience of young hipsters to the sneaker and apparel brand.

Keeping it cool with the kids
"We want to keep it cool with the kids," said David Schulte, head of

The Firm's Pony division. "It's a very under-the-radar map kind of play."

No longer.

This summer, wild postings of the Pony name began to appear in major urban markets. Pony t-shirts have also shown up on influential people in urban music clubs and events, including Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit. Pony also bought space at urban bus stop benches -- a commonly used place for underground music promotion and sponsorship.

The Firm launched a Pony Web site that highlights a number of products including the classic retro-athletic shoes, as well as promoting music from various Firm bands. Although Firm musicians do not appear to have any direct financial stake in Pony, they are instrumental in promoting the brand by wearing the apparel on stage and in clubs.

Marketing ventures for Pony this summer have include sponsorship of tours and other live events. Pony sponsored The Family Values Tour, which include a number of Firm artists. Pony was also a sponsor of the Harlem Rucker League, the oldest summer basketball league.

"It's a sneaker brand that we bought because we are fans of the sneakers. It's a old-school brand that kids love," Mr. Schulte said.

Athlete sponsorship has been a main marketing component of big athletic shoe manufacturers, such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas. In the future, Mr. Schulte said, Pony may consider adding athletes to its list of musicians.

Once a brand leader
Pony was a market leader in the 1970s and early 1980s before fledglings Nike and Reebok exploded. Now, "everybody's trying to figure out how to compete with Nike and Reebok, including Nike and Reebok," said analyst David Carter of the Los Angeles-based Sports Business Group. "But instead of re-positioning itself, Pony is taking a blank piece of paper and positioning itself. Maybe Pony is leading with a fashion statement first by using these artists, instead of performance. Maybe that's how they start."

"It's a whole brand play," Mr. Schulte said. "We've got a huge number licensees manufacturing it, and retail growth already is starting to happen."

Mr. Schulte wouldn't elaborate on retail alliances, although Pony has a relationship with online retailer Hot Topic and attended this fall's menswear show MAGIC to line up retail outlets.

Staff writer Rich Thomaselli contributed to this report.

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