New Balance Woos the Sneakerheads

In an attempt to solidify its standing with influential sneaker bloggers, New Balance Lifestyle has launched a campaign around a limited release—just 480—of the company’s 574 Clips running shoe.

The campaign, the first from Mother since winning the New Balance Lifestyle account last August (BBDO, New York, handles the brand’s other work), includes a Polaroid in each of the 480 shoes with a 5-digit code on the back that buyers can use to “claim” their shoe online. The individual attention is meant to underscore the unusual, all-American lineage of the shoes: Each are composed of leftover material clippings in New Balance’s Lawrence, Mass., factory, (hence “Clips.”)

The 574 Clips will sell for $75, so the goal is not so much related to revenues from the line, but to creating a positive buzz among sneaker bloggers or “sneakerheads” as they’re known in the industry. “They’re vastly important for us because of the influence they have over the broader marketplace,” said Taylor Duffy, integrated marketing manager for New Balance’s Lifestyle. Duffy said that such sneakerheads have become much more influential over the past three years or so.

One of the industry’s biggest sneakerheads, Matt Halfhill, founder of the NiceKicks.com, which gets 2 million hits a month, said that there’s a ruboff effect among consumers when hardcore fans like himself give a sneaker the nod. “I think we are tastemakers at times,” he said. “What we say might catch on. Sometimes people look to the blogs for opinion about the shoe and read the comments closely.”

Only a sneakerhead is likely to fully appreciate Mother’s campaign, which invites buyers of the shoes to go to a 574 Clips Web site where they can find the video clip of their shoe and then claim it by entering a 5-digit code on the back of a Polaroid that comes with their shoe. Afterwards, that consumer is invited to share that information with friends via Tumblr, MySpace, Delicious and Facebook links. The clips shoes doing things like riding a roller coaster or even being chased by a zebra.

The viral media component is designed to let the buzz linger long after the shoes have sold out, said Kristina Helb, a New Balance Lifestyle rep.

New Balance began repositioning its Lifestyle category about a year ago. The idea, similar to Adidas’ Originals line, was to recycle New Balance’s older running shoes, which have become hip in certain circles. After Mother was brought on board last year, the agency launched a research project called “The Mother Study,” that identified New Balance’s brand essence and its audience, including those influential bloggers.