K-Swiss Shoes Break Into a Run

Houston Helm Takes Casual Basics Brand Into Performance Arena
LOS ANGELES–With Nike and Reebok stumbling, up-and-comer K-Swiss is making a push for a bigger share of the $7.5 billion U.S. footwear business, with an $18 million ad campaign that positions it as a performance brand.
Four TV ads from Houston Helm Fattel & Collins, Marina del Rey, Calif., broke last week in heavy rotation on MTV, Fox Sports and ESPN. The initial flight of network, cable and spot TV runs through June, then four more ads showcasing new athletes air during the back-to-school season. An additional $1 million will go to print advertising.
The company is looking to break out of its casual basics image, linking its brand with four burgeoning athletes: minor league baseball player of the year Gabe Kapler; NCAA singles and doubles tennis champ Luke Smith; beach volleyball Olympic hopeful Kristen Schritter; and welterweight boxing contender Oba Carr.
“K-Swiss has been around a long time; it’s a well-respected, heavily purchased shoe,” said Houston Helm president Greg Helm. The new ads focus on the kind of people the brand appeals to, Helm said: real athletes struggling for success, not megastars.
“Michael Jordan and the top athletes are not selling shoes anymore,” said Debbie Mitchell, vice president of marketing for K-Swiss. “Kids can relate to up-and-comers more than the pros.”
The performance emphasis is a departure from last year’s “Club K-Swiss” concept, which welcomed teens into a hip, exclusive brand “lifestyle.” But while athletes are shown training for competition in their K-Swiss footwear, target consumers are mostly aspirational: 80 percent of athletic shoes never touch a court or field, according to the company.
The budget is double K-Swiss’ 1998 ad spending. The brand’s wholesale volume jumped 58 percent in 1998 to $145 million, per Sporting Goods Intelligence. That puts K-Swiss second in growth behind Adidas. It sales account for slightly less than 2 percent of the branded footwear market.
“[Consumers are] always looking for a hot new brand,” Mitchell said. “We have the casual side nailed. Now we want to move toward performance products.”
–with Teresa Buyikian