Keds’ “Original Sneaker” Seeks Footing With Millennials

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Can you guess how long Keds has been peddling its humble brand of footwear? Try 94 years. Now the brand that gave us the term “sneakers” – its rubber soles allowed “sneaking” around – is looking to break out of its humble mold and attract a new generation of customers. History and that “sneaking” thing are key to the strategy.

In a new campaign the brand is reminding consumers that Keds is the first, authentic sneaker. The campaign, titled “The Original Sneaker,” targets the millennials, a generation in love with stylish footwear. Unfortunately (for Keds), it is also a demographic that cannot even remember the 1980s, the last time Keds were wildly popular. Through advertising and a website stressing hip, modern energy, it’s clear the brand hopes to recapture some of that heady, 1980s popularity. [more]

While so many modern brands find life through sub-committees and market surveys, Keds is an old school brand, and it hopes to leverage this storied genuineness. And the campaign is bringing some of the brand’s history to life in a compelling section of its website that stresses Keds’ deep cultural roots.

One problem facing the campaign? The New York Times points to research showing that Keds’ claim to being the original sneaker may be mistaken. Since the revelation, The Times reports that Keds has dialed down the claims since being informed of the findings. But the shoe brand hasn’t completely abandoned the claim. So while this technical debate may continue to smolder, few consumers are likely to respond negatively – if they ever hear about it at all.

Besides, Keds has other challenges to worry about.

Though the brand enjoys a well defined and iconic cultural status, Keds is also confined by that same identity – and attempts to modernize or change the brand in way may alienate existing customers and/or confuse prospective ones.

It would certainly be out of character for Keds to launch new lines of shoes. So the brand needs to be creative in promoting a product that has changed little in nearly 100 years. Its current effort to inform a new generation of young people that the brand exists is a good start.

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