The North Face Wants to Own the Athlete Market and Beat Big Names Like Nike and Adidas

'Four-season, year-round brand' launches new campaign

Gone are the days when sports retailers specialized in one thing. While Nike, Adidas and Under Armour are starting to look more like tech brands, The North Face is making a hard push to appeal to athletes.

Today, the outdoor brand and agency Mekanism launch a 30-second TV spot promoting Mountain Athletics, a program geared toward athletes that includes local training events, a mobile app and a line of gear.

"Athletes train for specific things, and it's about inspiring people to go outdoors," said Courtney Blacker, director of marketing at The North Face. "And the training program is a complement to that." 

It's the first time the Alameda, Calif.-based brand has run a national campaign during the first half of the year and represents a 50 percent increase in ad spending from 2014. Blacker declined to say how much the campaign costs but said that it cements The North Face as "a four-season, year-round brand."

There's also a hefty digital media push behind Mountain Athletics, including a sponsorship of the Xbox Fitness app, ads on Spotify and promos on fitness-focused publishers like Self and Runner's World.

The idea is to make The North Face a one-stop shop for athletes to buy gear, exercise with like-minded people and track their progress. "This is based on an unmet need for our athletes, and we're all about performance and enabling you to train in outdoor sports that we're known for," Blacker said.

Gaining that level of credibility could be a tough sell, however, with big names like Nike, Reebok and Adidas already making inroads in the space, particularly in mobile and digital.

Nike has even recruited professional athletes—golfer Michelle Wie, skateboarder Leticia Bufoni and boxer Marlen Esparza—to be the face of its Nike+ Training Club app and guide people through workouts.

But The North Face is trying to stand out by appealing to a wide group of athletes, not just the hard-core sports fans its competitors focus on. Its Mountain Athletics app launched last year and lets athletes track their workouts with calendars, tutorials, videos and virtual rewards for meeting goals.

"We are athletes ourselves, so we want to develop tools and a community that would enable athletes of all types to participate with us," Blacker said.