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New Balance looks to cement ties with grassroots footballers to stand out from ‘hyperstylised’ brands

New Balance is looking to blend content featuring professional football stars with posts from grassroots players in an attempt to focus on their shared attributes of natural skill and hard work, brand traits it believes will give fans welcome respite from what it calls the “hyperstylised” efforts from the likes of Adidas and Nike.

After a six-month tease New Balance’s charge into the football space begins in earnest this week with the launch of its first collection of football boots – the Visaro for players who ‘Make Chances’ and the Furon boot for players who ‘Take Chances’. It bares similarities to Adidas’ recent revamp of its football range to focus on player types, though New Balance had been trailing its own effort for longer.

The main outlet for this is the “Blackout Squad”, a group of grassroots players from around the world that have been handpicked to receive exclusive access to boots and other products as if they were professional player. From competitions to being chosen by pros, members are recruited in different ways depending on their locality with New Balance using the scheme to give them a taste of what it’s like to be a professional player with access to prototype products. Participants will be encouraged to create their own content using the products they receive, whether that’s a boot review or a skills videos, in order to help them relate to the brand more.

“These are grassroots players from all over the world from age 13 to 20 years old who now get a package every month with free gear, said Matt Bennett, co-founder and chief creative officer at Zak, which has developed the strategy for New Balance. “We want to show how the brand recognises those fans who work hard and aspire to be a football player without showing them that it’s something they can’t achieve because we’ve given our professional players superhuman traits in our creative.”

Eventually, New Balance plans to use its Blackout Squad members to push into other channels like Snapchat and Periscope to reach more influencers, while it uses more established platforms such as Instagram and Facebook to continue building awareness for the brand.

“The Blackout Squad has a slightly younger target audience than our main work so we may look at Snapchat [for it] but when it comes to promoting the boots then it’s more about the established proprietary channels that have the biggest followings,” said Bennett. “The biggest job for us at the moment is to get that awareness and saliency because we want people to understand what New Balance is about and why we’re different. As we develop the brand further then we can build in more platforms to the strategy and start finding the right jobs for each.”

New Balance also hopes to stand apart from rivals by concentrating on showing its brand ambassadors in environments where they’re training. By doing this, it hopes to drive more fan engagement around the content beyond just shares with fans more likely to create something off the back of a video or a picture if they believe they see their favourite players in more believable settings.

An example of the dynamic was shown earlier this week (16 June) when the brand invited influencers down to Liverpool to come and use Go Pro camera kits it provided to film themselves using its new boots. They produced their own content off the back of the event, which the brand was then able to amplify through its own channels including those professional players it pays.

It is a plan buoyed by New Balance’s expanding brand power in the sport. Bennett said its decision to trail the boots for so long before the launch had “almost got us part that acceptance phase among football fans”.

“We’ve got great players and great content,” he added and now fans “are like ‘I can’t wait to get this stuff’ instead of wanting to make a considered choice whether they like it or not.

The launch of the football boots starts in earnest as part of the company’s plan to become the third biggest football brand in the word. Football is a tiny fraction of New Balance’s $3.3bn annual revenue and so it is keen to establish a presence in the sport as well as use the additional exposure to spur its other product categories, namely running.

New Balance’s campaign comes at a time of change in the football market with Adidas overhauling its own approach to the sport to appeal to modern players more likely to play it on the street rather than a pitch.

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