Saucony Seeks ‘Emotion’ From New Shop MMB

A longtime relationship between McCarthy Mambro Bertino CEO Joe McCarthy and Saucony vp of marketing Tom Carleo, and the shop’s rebranding efforts for Atari, played key roles in MMB’s win last week of the athletic-footwear company’s $5 million creative account, Carleo said.

McCarthy and Carleo’s ties date back to their days working for category leader Nike in the 1990s. McCarthy was the Beaverton, Ore., company’s vp of advertising during most of the decade before he moved to Boston to start MMB in 2001. Carleo worked at Nike for 15 years, most recently as footwear product director for men’s cross training, before joining Saucony in August.

“We have a mutual respect for each other,” Carleo said. “I’m very respectful of [McCarthy’s] ability to do things that are in tune with the core runner, which is critical to this brand.”

Carleo added that the company also was impressed with MMB’s rebranding of game-maker Atari. The independent shop updated its logo and created a new Web site for Atari, which returned to its original name after a stint as Infogrames. Atari “was a brand that was well-known back in the primitive stages of gaming, [but] had lost its way,” he said. “[MMB] came in and evaluated what Atari needed to do to be a player again.”

MMB bested other, undisclosed agencies for the Saucony business. The client had worked with Nail Communications in Providence, R.I., for about a year, as well as with freelancers. Print ads have focused on dedicated runners with the 10-year-old tagline, “Loyal to the sport.”

Saucony, whose $83 million in 2002 sales make it a small player in the $15 billion sneaker category, plans to continue emphasizing its hard-core running-shoe heritage, but wants to inject more emotion in new work.

“In the past, Saucony has done a nice job of [highlighting] just the product,” McCarthy said, adding that new ads will “marry product features with more emotion.”

Carleo promptly decided to look for a new agency following his arrival at Peabody, Mass.-based Saucony. “I was looking for one-stop shopping,” he said. “Quite frankly, I wanted a local agency and one that would bring freshness to our brand.”

Nike, with 39 percent market share, outdistances No. 2 Reebok (11.9 percent) and New Balance (11.6 percent), according to Sporting Goods Intelligence in Glen Mills, Pa. Saucony competes with alternative athletic-footwear brands such as K-Swiss and Asics.

“We have a very strong, loyal following that is based on years of consistently great-fitting product,” Carleo said. “My intent is not to become an in-your-face brand, but to nurture what the brand has been about all along.”

Saucony’s sneaker lines include a range of high-performance running and walking shoes, as well as colorful vintage models that are part of the Saucony Originals line.

The timing is right for Saucony to make a fresh push, said Robert McGee, editor of Sporting Goods Intelligence. “It’s an Olympic year, so there will be an industrywide bent on performance,” he said. “I would imagine they would push that, and certainly they have heritage in performance; they don’t have to invent it.”

The initial print executions from MMB are expected to break in January in running magazines and fitness and lifestyle books. The agency also will work on direct marketing, collateral and Web-based projects for the client. Media will continue to be handled by PRG Media in Providence.