How New Balance Is Driving a 'Movement for Movement'

Hilary Keates, Global Marketing and Brand Management Exec, on Company's New International Campaign and Where It's Going Next

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Hilary Keates spent nearly a decade at P&G, at the tail end selling Venus razors to women as a marketer at the packaged goods giant. But a year and a half ago, she made a big switch to U.S. sporting-goods company New Balance. She jumped right in, traversing the globe to collect consumer sentiment about the brand and about running, and wasted no time selecting a new agency partner.

Hilary Keates
Hilary Keates

The result is a campaign created in short order by Arnold, Boston, called "Let's Make Excellent Happen." The effort, which launches tomorrow, includes TV, print, digital advertising, viral video content, in-store and event exposure. At the heart of the campaign is a TV spot called "Pier 54," named after its shooting location in New York, that shows Team New Balance athletes training and competing in the sneakers.

"We kicked off with [Arnold] in June, they were being onboarded in the first month, they started the creative process in July and they shot this commercial in November in New York City," Ms. Keates said. She added that the campaign is "designed to motivate and inspire active consumers to reach a new level of personal performance."

It's a new tack for the running-shoe maker, which amidst the recession chose to play up its patriotic heritage, with a "Made in the USA"-themed campaign. But as the economic climate improved, it has transitioned to touting new product innovations and branding.

Here's a chat we had with Ms. Keates on the eve of the campaign launch.

Ad Age: Why did you make the change from P&G to New Balance?

Ms. Keates: I was looking for a new opportunity -- I'd been at Procter & Gamble for about 10 years. It's been an exciting change. It's interesting. It's a great opportunity as a marketer to take a brand that's been around 100 years and re-energize and reinvigorate it. I manage all of brand marketing for New Balance, which includes public relations, digital marketing, international marketing, cause marketing and apparel marketing, as well as our channel marketing -- our area targeted at developing marketing plans specific to key retailers.

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'Pier 54'
Ad Age: Your new campaign, "Let's Make Excellent Happen," is launching simultaneously in a long list of international markets, including: Canada, Brazil, Chile, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Poland, the Czech Republic, Russia, Israel, South Africa, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Logistically speaking, how does a company handle a launch like that, especially when your creative agency is based in Boston?

Ms. Keates: Initially this campaign was developed via focus groups and quantitative research around the globe. We worked to make sure that the insights we were gathering for the campaign were relevant around the world. I'm fortunate enough to have regional marketers in various regions. Throughout the process we worked hand-in-hand to make sure the creative we were developing in those markets was relevant; as we develop the creative we always have in mind that there will be adaptions to make sure it's relevant. In Japan, for instance, the target is more of a fitness runner than a performance runner. We target the message to those consumers using the same look and feel around the globe, but might adjust the message slightly about what we way say. As we look at our markets in Asia, running is newer in those markets; it's becoming more of a sport. That message is a little different in Japan and China than in Australia and New Zealand, which are similar to the U.S. in terms of their consumer demographics and the saturation of the importance of running in those markets. There's a stronger base of runners in the United States, at all levels, and running is more a part of the culture of the United States.

Ad Age: Where has New Balance been embraced as a brand, and what are some regions you are still trying to penetrate?

Ms. Keates: New Balance in the United States is a brand that's been around for over 100 years and that's not the case in other markets. As you go into Europe, our brand is strong and growing, as it is in Asia Pacific, as well. We're looking to enter some markets that I haven't mentioned. We have a strong brand presence in the U.K., France, Germany. Latin America is a growing market -- we have a presence there, and have a subsidiary in Mexico, and are really growing in Brazil and Argentina right now. We're just moving into Russia, which is new. It's been really fun to see the new creative and the adaptation in Russia.

Let's Make Excellent Happen
Let's Make Excellent Happen
Ad Age: You named Arnold your global creative agency last summer, and work with other shops there too, like Almighty. Is there a desire on behalf of New Balance to want to stay true to your heritage and work with agencies that come from the town where the company grew up?

Ms. Keates: That was very much in our minds as we looked at new agencies. We're a local company here and working with local partners and agencies in the Boston area is important to our owners and to us. [Arnold] actually works across the street from where I live! It's made it a very easy transition to work with them. They also have had a track record with sports and athletic brands in the past, and I do believe they were exactly the right choice. ...They've been an outstanding partner so far. ... BBDO was a wonderful partner as well, but as we were trying to bring our brand into a new direction, it was an opportunity to bring on a new agency.

Ad Age: Earlier this year, New Balance announced a partnership with Westin Hotels to help travelers stay fit while on the road. Can you tell me a bit about the thinking behind this? Are you stepping up partnerships as you try to capture more global market share?

Ms. Keates: As a company, we launched into an exercise to talk about our brand essence and who we want to be. Our objective as a company is to get people moving, and we are driving a movement for movement. We've engaged in partnerships like the Westin, in particular, because we want our consumers to be engaged in their fitness regimen no matter where they are. Any partnerships you see will be singularly focused on that.

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