27 February 2023

With "New Balance and the Art of Sneaker Ads", END. delves into New Balance's advert archives to spotlight a selection of iconic campaigns and their cultural significance.

Throughout the history of sneakers, the success of certain releases comes down to multiple intertwining factors. There’s the overall design of the shoe, be it the sneaker’s shape, technology or the materials used. Then of course there’s factors such as trends, be it subcultural popularity or celebrity endorsement. The recent rise in trail-focused sneakers and outerwear, for instance, or the techy, hyper-futuristic silhouettes that dominated the zeitgeist at the turn of the millennium.

A key driving factor in a sneaker’s success also comes down to the way it's marketed, with advertisement campaigns representing a crucial way of capturing the zeitgeist’s attention. Throughout the past five decades, New Balance has grown from strength to strength, not only through its expansive line-up of iconic sneakers, but through the way it markets them.

Delving into the performance credentials of footwear isn’t always the most engaging of subjects for all, but New Balance has consistently managed to package this in a way that’s imaginative, captivating and often tongue in cheek. It’s something that aligns with the mantra the label employed during the early ‘90s, “Endorsed by No One”, which saw the label focus all efforts on product, research and innovation, rather than celebrity endorsement. It’s an approach that has been a key driving factor in New Balance becoming the tour de force it is today, with the label well and truly at the forefront of the contemporary sneaker world. 

Celebrating that, END. delves into the archives of New Balance, showcasing a selection of some of the label’s most iconic and disruptive adverts throughout the past five decades.

"Mortgage the House"

It’s no secret that a "Made in" New Balance sneaker is a premium thing. You’re getting product that’s crafted with the pinnacle of sneaker technology, made with the very best of materials and carefully put together by skilled workers using considered techniques. After all, when the 990 debuted in 1982, it was the first sneaker to be given a triple-figure price point, something that was then unheard of. It’s a fact New Balance hasn’t shied away from referencing in its adverts, either, with tongue-in-cheek nods like the launch of the even more expensive 1300 that debuted in 1984. The ad’s headline read “Mortgage the house”, a not-so-subtle reference to the fact the 1300 debuted with a $130 price tag — or well over $350 in today’s money, for context. It was also accompanied by copy that showcased the self-assuredness of New Balance and its product, reading “there’s a good reason why the New Balance 1300 costs more than any running shoe you’ve probably ever owned. It costs more because it offers more”.

New Balance 990
"On a Scale of 1000, this shoe is a 990"

Amongst the plethora of sought-after New Balance sneakers, it’s an easy claim to make dubbing the 990 as its flagship. The sneaker has remained consistently relevant for over four decades, an achievement made possible through its timeless iterative designs and unrivalled quality. The advert that launched the sneaker was an ingenious, tongue-in-cheek way of referencing the model designation and the time and effort poured into the sneaker. The copy also delved into the what made the 990 worthy of its triple-figure price point, touching upon the motives behind it — creating the very best sneaker, irrespective of costs — and the technology underpinning it.

"Our Competition Has it Made, We Make it Ourselves"

Domesticated craft has long been integral to the DNA of New Balance, whether that be through its coveted Made in US division or the iconic Made in UK. It’s something that led New Balance to be the forefront of sneaker quality, allowing the brand to stand out for its near-forensic approach to footwear craft. In the late ‘80s, New Balance poked directly at this unique approach to craftsmanship, running campaigns with the headline “Our Competition Has it Made, We Make it Ourselves”. By doing this, New balance was eluding to their commitment to domestic manufacturing and buying their own sites to ensure premium quality, rather than outsourcing any of its production overseas.

"Runners Aren't Normal"

New Balance’s “Runner’s Aren’t Normal” is a campaign that dates all the way back to 1982, a clever way of not just displaying their broad array of runners, but also tapping into the variety of people that make up the community. Its origins lie in New Balance’s early commitment to “better understand the relationship between running and the human body”, with the original advert showcasing the fruits of their labour: a selection of runners catered to different styles, levels of commitment and terrains. At the backend of 2022, New Balance revisited the “Runners Aren’t Normal” storyline to coincide with the much-anticipated 990 V6, with a video campaign including a myriad of people, including New Balance aficionado, Action Bronson.  

“Other Basketball Shoes Will Live in its Shadow”

If you were to say the first thing that sprung to mind when mentioning New Balance and basketball, you’d be forgiven if you said the 550. It dominated the sneaker sphere throughout 2021 and 2022, spearheaded by Teddy Santis and the clever decision to revive the sneaker that was then long-forgotten in the archives. Certainly more obscure is New Balance’s 999: a tech-filled, court-focused shoe that debuted in 1985. So confident were New Balance in its technical capabilities, they ran with the advert headline “Other basketball shoes will live in its shadow”, right above a picture of the sneaker, supersized, floating ominously above the hardwood. Interestingly, the sneaker has now faded into obscurity, with the 999 model number largely associated with the namesake runner.

"An Unfair Comparison"
New Balance Rainier

The New Balance Rainier is a shoe that’s been thrusted back into the limelight, largely thanks to the recent Aimé Leon Dore collaboration and the subsequent mainline release. When the Rainier launched in 1982, it represented a revelation in the world of outdoor footwear — a step in a new direction of lightweight, hybrid footwear that married trail-ready ruggedness with the lightweight comfort of a sneaker. It was unfair, then, to compare a lightweight, rugged sneaker with the heavy, bulky outdoor shoes of the time, as the New Balance advert above nods to.

“Three Good Reasons Why New Balance Makes Athletic Shoes in Different Widths”

If you were to mention the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about New Balance, it’s likely that comfort will be high on a lot of people’s lists. That’s for good reason; since day one, New Balance has represented one of the trailblazers in footwear comfort, creating sneakers filled with technology that supports and cushions every step. It goes beyond that, with New Balance creating sneakers in a variety of widths to cater for different sizes, as the playful ad from 1989 nods to.

"You couldn’t pay me to wear this boot up Mt. Everest"
New Balance Rainier

For the launch of the Rainier boot, legendary mountaineer, Lou Whittaker, was the face of the advert beneath font reading “You couldn’t pay me to wear this boot up Mt. Everest”. This was, of course, a tongue-in-cheek approach from New Balance, because Whittaker did in fact wear it, with the Rainier being the shoe of choice for his climb of the Great Couloir of the North Face of Mt. Everest, a route that had never been taken before. By digging a little deeper, you would go on to find copy where Whittaker would explain the meaning behind the advert’s slogan; each piece of equipment chosen by Whittaker was done so meticulously, as ultimately, the wrong decision could’ve been fatal. Money therefore didn’t come into the picture for Whittaker, rather he aimed to ensure he wore the best-of-the best for his own safety and performance, and that was the Rainier boot.

"Sneaker Intelligence"

Throughout New Balance’s history, the brand has made tongue-in-cheek references to their product being closely tied to intelligence. Whether that be in the way that they’re built, as the advert promoting the NBX9000 from 1992 shows, or their signature “The Intelligent Choice” slogan, as depicted in the Aimé Leon Dore advert outlined below.

writerJack Grayson