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With the pandemic restricting some recreational activities over the past year, many people have turned to hiking as a way to connect with nature and stay active. Merrell, the outdoor footwear brand, wants to broaden the notion of hiking to encompass all walks of life — literally. It is teaming with Dick's Sporting Goods on a new campaign to attract younger urban consumers and bring a sense of outdoor adventure to more everyday places.
"Take a Hike," created with agency Blue Chip, began on May 17. Thirty- and 15-second videos introduce multipurpose shoes as a new "fast hike" category, while a 6-second clip jumps from a closeup of the shoes to a couple crossing a staged forest, then switches again to a city backdrop. The creative closes with a shoe splashing through a puddle on concrete, while a voiceover says: "Take a hike. Anywhere. With Merrell. Available at Dick's Sporting Goods."
The campaign between Merrell and Dick's Sporting Goods was designed to carve out a new category of shoes fit for any walking excursion, conveyed through an expanded definition of hiking to meet the needs of today's active consumer. To Garrett McGuire, Merrell's director of retail marketing, it is about allowing people to think about hikes as something they can take anywhere, any way they want, with a shoe that crosses between boots and sneakers.
"How people experience and demonstrate 'hiking' has changed over the years to be more inclusive of more outdoor spaces," he said. "It's much more than the classic notion of woods and mountains, but also city blocks and parks. The consumers we're connecting with in this campaign are a new generation of outdoor athletes."
Traversing a mountain
The six-week campaign runs through mid-June mostly via video and graphic ads on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. While Merrell doesn't currently have plans to extend the work beyond June, the brand and its partners designed the campaign so it could be built out depending on performance and sales of the three new models at Dick's: Moab Flight, Nova and Antora 2.
"Take a Hike" stems from consumers insights around overlapping audiences between Merrell and Dick's as well as a gap in footwear. Blue Chip's research identified a high percentage of Dick's shoppers define success as pushing past limits or expanding personal abilities. That insight paved the way for the new "fast hike" category of shoe that can serve consumers on any long walking excursion, something that has become especially prudent during the pandemic when many folks turned to outdoor activities.
"People take hiking too literally," said Darick Maasen, creative director at Blue Chip. "We're looking to redefine hiking for younger consumers who may feel alienated by the lofty expectations of what a hike is supposed to be. You can hike anywhere you chose and shouldn't be limited by your current footwear."
Merrell, Dick's and Blue Chip began developing the campaign in February 2020 just before pandemic-related lockdowns occurred, pushing them to pause "Take a Hike" due to uncertainties around retail and supply chains needed to get the new shoes in stores. The team picked things up again in early 2021 after seeing a wave of consumers becoming outdoor enthusiasts and turning to Dick's for gear. The retailer topped Wall Street's fourth-quarter estimates, seeing a 19.8% lift from Q4 2019 as shoppers bought equipment and apparel for outdoor activities and home workouts during the health crisis.
Merrell's goal was to create a multipurpose shoe that is less intimidating and restrictive, according to Maasen. A crossover style of shoe that blends elements of hiking boots — such as traction and support — with sleek styles and the smaller profile of a sneaker provides a more versatile option for consumers.
"Whether you're in the city or you're a nature, the shoes fit where you are," Maasen said.
Shoe design mirrors ad's message
At the same time, the shoes' versatile designs speak to the campaign's core message of expanding hiking's definition to make the activity more accessible.
The creative conveys this message through a "glitch technique" that shows various backdrops flicker in and out while the shoes remain constant.
"It's sort of like the shoes exist between two channels; it can't quite decide which one to settle on. So it's constantly switching between these two realities," Maasen said.
"Take a Hike" fits into Merrell's broader brand strategy of sharing the power of being outside. In November 2020, it ran a campaign to encourage people to find hikes in their local neighborhood. A variety of digital activations reminded consumers that they don't need to scale a mountain to enjoy walking in nature. Merrell reached potential customers through other interest areas, such as websites about cooking, and crafted the "Hike Your Turf" work to drive the message that regardless of one's preferred hiking style, Merrell has the perfect shoe.