Toth Repaints Keds as Brand That Goes Beyond Sneakers

Stride Rite will triple its ad spending to approximately $6 million this year as it attempts once more to revive its long-struggling Keds brand.

The creative strategy has been tweaked each time the Lexington, Mass., client has changed taglines in an effort to better align Keds with fashion and consumer trends, said Terri Rawson, client vp of marketing.

A new print campaign by Toth Brand Imaging that introduces the tagline “My Keds” seeks to reinvigorate the brand by “shattering trade and consumer perceptions that Keds only offers white sneakers,” said Toth director of account service Bob Fouhy. Brand research “told us that women are looking for a brand that represents fun, openness, relaxation … a respite from their hectic lives,” he noted.

The effort broke this month in Lucky and Southern Living, but the big push comes in March issues of Glamour, InStyle, Oprah and Vogue, among others.

The new ads mostly comprise two-page spreads and use no copy other than the tagline and the familiar blue Keds logo. The work primarily combines colorful product shots in one panel, such as Keds shoes arrayed in the shape of a fan, with large images of smiling people—in one execution, a young woman appears to be playing on a seesaw. Ads showcase the brand’s expansion into new styles, such as slides, mules and thongs. Women ages 18-54 are the principal target; the core market is women in their mid-30s to early 40s.

“My Keds” replaces last year’s “American style,” which in turn supplanted “Keds. Every. Wear.” The latter was introduced by Concord, Mass.-based independent Toth in 2000.

Campaigns with the “Keds. Every. Wear” theme sought to establish the brand as a player in the casual-footwear market and position its shoes as hip accessories. The “American style” approach “was developed in response to the consumer trend of returning to American brands,” Rawson said, and played up the idea that since its inception in 1916, Keds “has been the epitome of American style and comfort.”

Those approaches, however, failed to make cash registers ring. According to Stride Rite, Keds sales declined 6 percent in 2002 compared with the previous year. The sales decline from 2000-01 was about 10 percent, according to company data.

Keds was No. 13 in overall global athletic-footwear sales in 2001 with $232 million; the leader, Nike, did $5.5 billion in sales, according to Sporting Goods Intelligence.

Rawson declined to discuss Keds’ sales goals for 2003.

With “My Keds,” the company is trying to reflect “how women speak to the shoes in their closet,” Rawson said. “Keds has a unique place in a woman’s wardrobe, and she calls them out specifically.”

“What they need is a cultural circle-back,” said Chris Colbert, principal of Boston-based consultancy one eighty. “They were once a dominant brand, but then the culture shifted, and they were out of style. Eventually, there will be a return. But I’d say [at least] 50 percent of that is outside their control” and may depend on shifts in the marketplace. “The days when you can rebuild brands on the back of advertising are gone,” he added.

Toth has experience with brand rebuilding, notably via its work on Tommy Hilfiger. During the agency’s 1990-97 tenure on the account, Hilfiger sales skyrocketed from about $25 million annually to more than $800 million. Toth put the Hilfiger name front and center, eschewing most other copy, in a series of bold, often provocative print ads and billboards that helped to remake the brand into an essential component of hip, urban fashion.