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Friday, October 17, 2008

New Balance Ups It's Ad Spend

BOSTON - New Balance said it has hired independent Mother in New York as its lead global agency for creative and media on its lifestyle advertising, though Omnicom Group's BBDO -- brought aboard last year following a review -- continues to handle the brand's athletic performance efforts.

Omnicom's PHD will still handle media buying and planning on the performance work. The company in Boston has upped spending of late, with a measured-media outlay of $20 million through July 2008 after spending $15 million on ads all of last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

In a related move, New Balance has hired two creative directors, Savania Davies-Keiller and Roberto Crivello, founders and designers at fashion brand DDC Lab, as in-house cds. Their mission is to set the overall creative direction for the sneaker brand's lifestyle category moving forward, the company said.

The pair worked on designs for New Balance sneakers this fall, and they will now help create products for global distribution using innovative fabrics and technologies.

Joe Casagrande, gm, New Balance Lifestyle, said: "The amplified role of two talented creative directors, complemented by the innovation and insight Mother brings to the table, helps position New Balance as a brand that is serious about having a significant presence in the global lifestyle market." -By David Gianatasio

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Creating the Perfect Shoe

LAWRENCE — When Pedro Rodriguez goes for a jog, don't blame him if he feels a little like a guinea pig in some kind of space-age science experiment.

As high-speed cameras take high-definition video images of him running, sensors attached to his legs detect what his knees and thigh muscles are doing. Another one near his heel sends messages to a computer about what's going on with his calf and foot muscles.

At the same time, a pad in the bottom of his sneaker records the temperature inside the shoe and keeps track of the amount of pressure he exerts on the soles of his feet.

"We are trying to create the perfect shoe," says Sean Murphy, the engineering manager at the New Balance facility on Union Street in Lawrence. "This information tells us what's happening with the joints, and it tells us if the shoe is doing what it's designed to do."

Earlier this month, New Balance put the finishing touches on a $2 million sports research and development lab that uses the latest technology in biomechanics to decipher just what happens to a person, and the shoe that person is wearing, when running, shooting hoops, playing tennis or taking on just about any other sport.

The 3,000-square-foot, high-ceilinged lab in the basement of New Balance's manufacturing center has a 30-by-30-foot basketball court, complete with backboard, a modified treadmill and a 120-foot long track for runners to sprint on in front of video cameras. Set into the polished wood floor, which looks a bit like the parquet at the Garden, is a thick glass plate that measures the impact of the shoe on the ground. A camera below the glass captures images of the sole.
Meanwhile, a small room at the back of the main lab, called the "smash lab," contains equipment used to more or less pulverize the shoes to see how long they can last before breaking down and causing runner injuries.

Usually, the company has about 10,000 pairs of shoes being wear-tested, and the tests take about six weeks to conduct.

With the machinery in the smash lab, Murphy says, "We can see what happens to the shoe in a lifetime of wear in two and a half days. In R&D, time is cost."

While the hardware is good at putting the shoes through the paces, it is the software — both human and computer — that does the bulk of the work, notes Trampas TenBroek, manager of sports research and advanced products at New Balance.

"Setting up the lab and getting the information isn't that hard," he says, "but processing the data, that takes time and experience."

TenBroek boots up his computer, and an image of Rodriguez running across the glass "force plate" pops up on the screen. He said the video is important, because the human eye can't move quickly enough to see exactly what is happening to a shoe when it's in motion. By putting the video into slow motion, the viewer can see how the shoe compresses on impact, and recovers its shape as the foot is lifted off the ground.

As valuable as the video is, he says the more important information comes in the form of numbers. He pulls up another screen on the computer that depicts data streaming from the sensors in the shoes and on the runner.

Thousands of numbers stream down the screen, and to the untrained eye, they're a blur. But to TenBroek and Rodriguez, PhD. candidates from UMass-Amherst who were brought to Lawrence to run the lab, that's where the magic lies.

Interpreted correctly, the numbers tell the engineers about the knee angle, for example, or the force in the hip as the runner strides by. The also tell the temperature inside the shoe, which can have an impact on the long-term performance of the foam in the sole.

TenBroek says such tests are followed up by surveys that ask the athletes if the shoes are comfortable. No matter how much time and effort goes into making a shoe, if it's not comfortable for the runner, it won't sell.

"We look at it from a lot of different levels," Murphy says. "We relate it to what the customers say. Is it working for the athlete?"

Murphy, who oversees the lab, says because the athletic shoe market is so competitive, companies like New Balance must do whatever they can to ensure they have quality products.
The engineers who design the shoes can use the information gleaned from the lab to improve both the way they are made and the materials they are made with.

Murphy says the company will begin reaching out to area running clubs and local college athletes to conduct "wear-test" programs.

"We'll bring them here, put on the sensors, and run some tests," he says. "Does it work on elite guys? Mid-pack runners? How about back-of-the-pack?"

By Bill Kirk