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New Balance Puts Foot Down on Endorsements

January 29, 1998|Greg Johnson

Do sneaker companies need highly paid celebrity pitchmen to hawk their wares? New Balance Athletic Shoe Inc. doesn't think so. The Boston-based manufacturer recently took out an advertisement in USA Today's Western edition to argue that customers aren't well-served by the expensive but widespread practice of paying professional athletes to endorse products. The advertisement ran in connection with a Monday hearing in Portland, Ore., that the National Basketball Assn. conducted to investigate Golden State Warrior player Latrell Sprewell's highly publicized attack on Coach P.J. Carlismo. New Balance's only venture into the endorsement world came during the early 1990s when the company hired former Los Angeles Laker star James Worthy. New Balance acknowledges that its policy hurts when it comes to selling to younger consumers: "The very first question that younger consumers ask is, 'Who wears them?' " said John Donovan, New Balance's director of advertising. "But older consumers, those between 21 and 35 and those over 35, really identify more with non-celebrity messages." Donovan said consumers are wising up to the fact that they're footing the bill for multimillion-dollar celebrity endorsement contracts. New Balance does "pay money to a small group of elite runners who test our products," Donovan said. "That makes sense because if the shoes aren't right for them, they're not right for the rest of the customers." Donovan said the company has received "a fair number of responses from people calling on their own nickel to say they agree with us."

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