Portland Business Journal – by Erik Siemers
Date: Monday, March 7, 2011, 1:50pm PST
Boston-based New Balance puts Nike — every athletic footwear company’s biggest competitor — front and center in a 16-second spot that debuted online last week and was peppered across major TV networks this weekend.
The campaign is designed to show that New Balance’s new running shoe, the 890, is lighter than Nike’s own lightweight offering, the Lunarglide. But according to at least one analyst, the ad could do more harm than good.
The ad, which can be viewed on YouTube, shows a Nike Lunarglide on a digital scale weighing in at 11 ounces. The New Balance 890 is on a scale next to it registering 11.1 ounces, until a handful of nuts and bolts are dumped from it, driving its weight down to 9.7 ounces.
“It weighs practically nothing,” the ad’s narrator says. “It’s about to change everything.”
This I’m-lighter-than-you tactic isn’t surprising, given the recent surge in popularity in what should be called the footwear world’s featherweight division.
In his regular monthly report on the global athletic footwear market, SportsOne Source analyst Matt Powell said that running shoe sales grew 25 percent in January, with 85 percent of that increase coming from the lightweight running category.
Lightweight accounted for 19 percent of all running sales and is on track to do $1.2 billion as a category this year. Nike, as it does most athletic footwear categories, owns the market with a 65 percent share. Coming in a distant second and third are Reebok (27 percent) and adidas (4 percent).
New Balance — whose January running shoe sales fell 10 percent while Nike’s grew 20 percent, according to Powell — is playing a risky game by holding up its biggest competitor to public comparisons.
Powell, corresponding via e-mail on Monday, said he can’t recall a TV ad that compared one footwear company to another. Though those sorts of comparisons happen frequently in sales presentations, they rarely get viewed by the public.
“It is important for brands to communicate their own message, and not let other brands define you,” Powell wrote. “By making such a blatant comparison, (New Balance) runs the risk of letting Nike define them.”
This, he said, was Reebok’s problem for years while under the leadership of Paul Fireman.
“One year, they would want to be just like Nike,” he said. “The next, they wanted to be the non-Nike.”
Now owned by Adidas AG, Reebok has since found its own voice and its own stretch of success.
To be fair, the New Balance ad isn’t a blatant teardown of Nike. The short spot never mentions Nike by name and a pair of corresponding Web videos show similar scale tests pitting the 890 against Asics running shoes.
Still, in a competition that has come down to a measuring of ounces, the only thing weighing down Nike’s shoes is the target on the company’s back.