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To raise awareness about its brand and flagship store in New York, New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. hits the ground running with an app-based race through the streets of Manhattan, generating 75
million media impressions and surpassing retail sales goals. By Lena Valenty
PHOTOS: Ogilvy & Mather
Company:New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. Event:Urban Dash Objectives: Engage urban runners with the New Balance brand via social media, raise awareness about the flagship store, and achieve $250,000 in retail sales in the store's first month. Strategy:Use social media to encourage active New Yorkers to visit the store and make purchases. Tactic:Create a relay-race app dubbed the "New Balance Urban Dash" that requires users to "pick up" and "steal" virtual batons, and then run to the New Balance store to trade them in for limited-edition sneakers. Results:Garnered 6 million views for a YouTube video promoting the dash, netted 1,000 app downloads, generated 75 million media impressions, and surpassed retail sales goals by 40 percent. Creative/Production Agency:Ogilvy & Mather (OgilvyAction division),
www.ogilvyaction.com Creative/Production Agency:Ogilvy & Mather (Neo@Ogilvy division), www.neoogilvy.com Budget:$650,000
n the highly competitive athletic footwear and apparel market, image is everything. So when your customers are more likely to strap on a pair of your kicks and beeline to Baskin-Robbins than head to the local gym, it might be time to find a new audience.
That's the realization New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. came to in 2011, as it was preparing to launch its first store in Manhattan. The Boston-based company, which got its rather modest start making arch supports for shoes in 1906, has slowly but surely evolved into the $1 billion per year revenue generator that it is today by expanding into the athletic-footwear market, making shoes and apparel for everything from cross training and track and field to baseball and lacrosse. That sounds impressive, until you compare it to the likes of market leader Nike Inc., which raked in more than $24 billion in the United States in 2012 alone and ran laps around New Balance in terms of cool cache. Truth is, the company's brand perception was anything but hip.
That's not to say the athletic set completely avoided New Balance. The company did have its die-hard brand loyalists, but they were mostly Baby Boomers, and would soon be trading in their compression shorts for compression stockings. And while it's great to have a consistent, dependable customer base (albeit an aging one), New Balance wanted to promote its cutting-edge technology, fashion-conscious designs, and dedication to athleticism and fitness. In short, it wanted to appeal to the cool kids — in this case, active New Yorkers ages 25 to 49 — and figured the opening of its flagship store would be the perfect opportunity to shake things up a bit and demonstrate just how innovative it could be.
To accomplish that, New Balance had to aim higher than a simple ribbon-cutting ceremony and some swag bags. So it enlisted the help of New York-based advertising agency Ogilvy & Mather. "New Balance came to us and basically told us we could do whatever we wanted, as long as it created a line in front of the store and reinforced its 'Move the World' ethos," says Pamela Morrisroe, managing director of Ogilvy & Mather's OgilvyAction division. "That directive opened up a world of possibilities for us."
Despite the creative blank check, so to speak, OgilvyAction and New Balance immediately latched onto the idea of hosting a relay race — a somewhat obvious choice for an athletic-shoe maker. But since New Balance was struggling to overcome its "traditional" brand identity, a conventional foot race didn't really excite anyone because watching a baton change hands multiple times isn't exactly riveting or forward thinking, nor would it appeal to the younger audience the company sought.
In fact, based on market research, OgilvyAction knew that New Balance's target audience (identified as "New York Activists") seeks new challenges and is self-motivated. So the only way to reach that audience, in that city, Morrisroe and her team surmised, was through social media. And fortunately, there was an app for that.
The Game Plan
After OgilvyAction and New Balance came up with the relay concept, Morrisroe and her team reached out to Monterosa, a mobile-app development company headquartered in Stockholm. It had recently won several awards for a scavenger hunt it created for BMW AG's Mini Cooper, wherein participants downloaded an iPhone app that turned the city of Stockholm into a virtual game board. Players received notifications about the location of a "virtual" Mini Cooper, which they could then "take" or "steal" from other players in their vicinity by tapping a button within the app. The person who had the virtual Mini at the end of the game won a real Mini Countryman.
"We thought the format of the Mini Getaway game lent itself perfectly to a virtual relay race," Morrisroe says. Tracy Knauer, manager of New Balance's North America marketing activation team, agreed. "New Balance is a running company, and we act as a catalyst to get people moving," she says. "What better way to do that than to create a virtual contest around the baton — an iconic symbol of running?" With that, OgilvyAction and Monterosa got to work crafting the perfect contest.
Dubbed the "Urban Dash," the relay-race app featured a map of Manhattan. At various times throughout each day of the four-week race, virtual batons would appear on the map in predetermined "hotspots," or high-traffic areas. As players got within 100 feet of the virtual baton, they would receive the following alert: "You are in range to take a baton," along with a "take it!" button. They simply tapped the button to swipe the baton, an action they could then share via Facebook and Twitter.
In addition to baton icons appearing on the map as they were "dropped," sneaker icons representing all the runners participating in the Urban Dash would pop up on screen, so racers could keep an eye on the competition.
Plus, if one of those runners had a baton, players would be notified and given the chance to steal it when they got within 100 feet of him or her — all in the name of a little friendly competition. Each person who reached the New Balance store with the "baton" in hand would receive a pair of limited-edition running shoes, not to mention virtual bragging rights and a new appreciation of the brand. Of course, all of this would be moot if no one knew about the Urban Dash in the first place. So to spread the word and get people to participate in the competition, OgilvyAction took to the streets.
Beginning Aug. 8, 2011, just three days before the store officially opened, OgilvyAction launched what it calls a "hyper-local marketing campaign" that targeted New York Activists. Comprising mobile billboards, taxi toppers, subway panels, and bus-shelter posters promoting the Urban Dash and accompanying iPhone app, the marketing campaign was designed to capture the attention and interest of city dwellers as well as commuters. OgilvyAction also placed posters at fitness centers in the area, and took out ads in local, daily newspapers, all of which featured information about the Urban Dash, the New Balance store's location, and a Quick Response (QR) code and instructions on how to download the app. Furthermore, OgilvyAction tweeted about the dash and included a bit.ly link to view a YouTube video explaining the race and how to play.
In case the opportunity to zoom through Manhattan in a virtual relay race wasn't enough to whet the appetite of runners, New Balance sweetened the deal: Every runner returning a branded baton to the store would receive a free pair of limited edition 574 sneakers, but the person who returned the most batons throughout the course of the competition would win a 14-karat gold baton worth approximately $20,000 — all of which was explained via the localized promotional campaign.
In addition to the posters and print ads, word of the dash was spread through street teams. Comprising New Balance brand ambassadors decked out in branded gear and T-shirts emblazoned with QR codes that people could scan to download the app, the street teams added another layer of visibility to the campaign. "The couldn't-miss ambassadors in front of the store piqued the curiosity of New Yorkers in the area, and app downloads increased substantially when the street teams were out," Morrisroe says. That's because the street teams interacted with an estimated 55,000 people during the campaign, handing out information about the race and inviting passersby to download the app. Add that visibility to the proliferation of posters, taxi toppers, print ads, etc. in Manhattan, and one thing was certain — the race was on.
In it to Win It
When the veritable starting pistol went off and the Urban Dash began, 60 percent of the 1,000 people that downloaded the app laced up their running shoes and stared at their smartphones waiting for the first baton to drop, notification of which would come via an alert within the app as well as a tweet and Facebook post written by OgilvyAction containing the baton's location. As soon as a baton dropped, players raced toward the address provided in a mad dash across city streets to capture it before someone else did.
But it didn't end there. Players that picked up the virtual batons had to outsmart and outrun the competition, as every Urban Dash runner in the vicinity was undoubtedly descending on the same location to swipe it from them. Given that this was a virtual race, however, you wouldn't know someone had a baton simply by looking at him or her. Or rather, you wouldn't be able to determine if the person running down the street was evading the police, heading toward a bus stop, or trying to find a public restroom. So once a runner picked up a baton, a small baton image was added to the sneaker icon that represented him or her on the app's map. That way, every Urban Dash participant could see who had a baton at any given moment during the race, and where he or she was headed.
As a runner got close to someone with a baton, the app sent an alert, such as, "Kelley J. has a baton. You are in range to take it," along with a button to "take" the baton from her. "To say it got competitive would be an understatement," Morrisroe says. "Fortunately, it was friendly competition." That was thanks in large part to the fact that racers only had to be within 100 feet to "steal" a baton, eliminating the need for hand-to-hand combat.
This process — batons dropping and runners racing to the store — was repeated 20 times a day for 30 days. There was no limit to the number of batons any one player could take, steal, and/or return to the store for a free pair of sneakers. Not surprisingly, players logged some impressive miles, which the app tracked. In fact, according to New Balance, runners covered a combined average of 22 miles over 2.1 hours of game play, numbers that aligned with the company's "Move the World" ideology. "This pulled in people from all over the city," said one Corporate Event Awards judge. "New York was the event. The Urban Dash got people involved that had no relationship with New Balance, and that's a huge win."
The Finish Line
By the time the Urban Dash ended, each of the 600 batons had been passed to another runner an average of 4.5 times, which implies that multiple runners were chasing each baton all the way to the finish line. And once runners got to the New Balance store, they didn't just hang up their short shorts and go home. They shopped, spending an average of roughly $100 per transaction for a total of $350,000 in the store's first month — 40 percent higher than the company's original retail-sales goal. "This was a great execution of a mobile app," one judge said. "I love it. And I guarantee they had a lot of converts to the New Balance brand."
What's more, the store exceeded traffic goals by 15 percent, as 13,000 consumers visited in the first 30 days. Those numbers prove the hyper-local marketing campaign — which netted 75 million media impressions and 6 million YouTube hits — paid off, as New Yorkers flocked to the store in droves whether or not they had a baton to exchange for a prize.
Indeed, when the final virtual baton was returned and the last lace untied, one lucky runner walked away with the $20,000 gold baton, but New Balance walked away with the top prize — a whole new fan base.