New Balance China has departed from its usual approach to advertising in China, but may regret silencing what was a unique voice.
The brand's ads used to teach good lessons, in an introspective, not preachy way.
Take a look at this 'Letter To My Future Self' campaign from earlier this year, telling the under-reported story of how internet comedian Papi Jiang lived a bland existence in Beijing for the past 12 years before she rose to fame.
Or when New Balance tapped veteran singer-songwriter Jonathan Lee last year for its 110th anniversary, and combined the now-elderly star's life story with the brand's spirit in an autobiographical-style documentary called 'Every Step Counts'.
When the above two ads were released, they were dubbed as unprecedented and untraditional in China for surpassing the superficial values normally conveyed by advertisements. New Balance's slogan 'Every step counts' became iconic at that time, according to its agency W, as it advocated no such thing as wasted effort, since every step metaphorically counted.
"Nowadays, young people go after trendy things and lack values," said the case study for the campaign, in 2016. "Thus we distilled the essence of Li's personality, which is characterised as experienced, low-profile and pragmatic, into life values that are worth chasing".
So much for that. Last week's new campaign 'Live Fully In The Moment' is a big departure from what the brand used to uphold. Twelve silly clips of 10 seconds each, representing the waking hours of a young person's day, are meant to bring out the characteristics of the brand's new NB247 trainer.
The premise, according to W, is that consumers can vent anytime, and express themselves with the trainers. This creative approach, the agency said, "provides all-weather guidance for venting about life".
Ad Nut thinks this is a classic case of FOMO; New Balance is exchanging proverbs for chaos, and playing to the current internet culture in China, which has given rise to a 'speed-reading' habit among an impatient, restless target audience. When you also consider that New Balance has recently won some trademark lawsuits against copycats such as 'New Boom', this "short, flat, quick" approach (as the agency describes it, in Chinese) neither creates mileage nor seems helpful to the brand's long-term brand equity and differentiation versus fake goods.
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