Case Study

The harbinger

of style

for rebellious

urban youth

Background

One of the most original action sports brands, Airwalk was established in 1986. The brand quickly became the shoe of choice among board sports enthusiasts, who favored the company’s unique styles and authentic approach to design. Although Airwalk’s underground essence gave them credibility as a street-wear brand, awareness of Airwalk was limited outside of boarding culture. By the early 90’s, Airwalk sales had plateaued, and the company chose Lambesis to help them establish a more mainstream brand presence.

Key Strategic Issues

Airwalk had a modest consumer base of action sport enthusiasts, but in order to grow, the brand had to find a way to build brand awareness beyond this limited segment. Since athletic shoe companies with substantial media budgets were already marketing to the mainstream, Lambesis positioned Airwalk as an innovative style leader in the new category of active casual. With a limited budget, the initial goal was to convince trendsetters to adopt the brand. Once this was achieved, Airwalk could expand into the mainstream market.

Solutions

To resonate with the youth market, the Airwalk branding had to accurately portray style and irreverence, but with a credible tone that wouldn’t alienate the target. The solution was the now-famous L Report, a proprietary research study that provided deep insights into youth culture and emerging trends. The knowledge garnered through the L Report helped to influence product development and create design styles that visually translated these emerging trends into creative executions. Capitalizing on Airwalk’s quality and authenticity, Lambesis created a striking communication platform, with the product as the hero throughout all communications. Teen magazines and alternative media tactics generated enormous buzz among trendsetting audiences, and sponsorships and co-promotions at alternative sport and independent music events further contributed to Airwalk’s rebellious image.

Results

Not only did Airwalk experience a remarkable increase in overall brand awareness, but the campaign also generated an immediate and dramatic effect, with sales increasing from $30 million to $300 million in the space of four years. Popular styles quickly sold out at retail, and the trade book Morgan-Horan touted Airwalk as the #1 “heat-seeking” brand. Magazines invited Airwalk to participate in co-promotions, banking on their association with Airwalk to increase their cool factor, and the campaign became so popular that theft of outdoor Airwalk ads became rampant. The Airwalk case study was documented as a benchmark in college textbooks on advertising and in Malcolm Gladwell’s best selling book, The Tipping Point.

TV & Film

By portraying the product as the embodiment of the antihero, Airwalk’s TV commercials gained the attention and approval of a cynical youth audience.

Print

The product was the star of these graphic visual stories, which brought the style and persona of the action sport culture to the mainstream market.

Out of Home

When Lambesis saturated select outdoor markets with Airwalk advertising, the result was overwhelming, with numerous reports of theft of the ads from transit stations by young people.

Point of Sale/Retail

Combining subversive humor with original style, Lambesis transformed Airwalk’s collateral from informative sales pieces into edgy communications that effectively delivered product information without sacrificing brand authenticity.