A 2009 best-seller by Christopher McDougall made shoemakers very nervous. The book, Born to Run, told the near-mythical tale of groups around the world that run incomprehensible distances with ease, totally or nearly barefoot. For runners constantly suffering injuries and setbacks, the book and its message (ditch the shoes) was a huge success. It wasn’t long after bare feet began to take to the pavement nationwide that shoemakers and their advertisers regained a foothold in an industry that they’ve ruled for decades.
The latest statistics from sporting goods market research firm SportsOneSource show that sales for barefoot-friendly, minimalist running shoes are up more than 280 percent over the same period last year. Regular running shoes have also shown growth since last year, but this new market of barely-there kicks is clearly becoming a force.
Brands have had to show a new type of creativity in marketing their products to people who are actively seeking to cast their more traditional products aside. New Balance is the most recent addition with its NB Minimus Collection, a shoe that may look like average running gear, but has only a fraction of the cushioning. The crux of this campaign: running barefoot may be liberating, but no one wants a shard of glass in his or her foot.
New Balance’s new campaign is the product of Arnold Worldwide in Boston and is set to launch today with spots on ESPN, Comedy Central, and the Discovery Channel. The ads feature runners sporting one naked foot and one soled in the new Minimus. From walking on sizzling coals to being shunned by a shopkeeper, the tagline reads, "Like barefoot, only better."
Though the new craze is seemingly taking the running world by storm, with most of the major brands rolling out their own version of "barefoot plus" sneakers, those in the industry aren’t entirely convinced. "If I thought barefoot running was the be-all and end-all, I would quit and make foot soap," Katharine Petrecca, the manager of New Balance’s Minimus line, told The New York Times.