Red Wing Unleashes 'Trades-Made' Campaign

Red Wing Shoes, which has been cranking out high-quality work boots for 118 years, knows its blue-collar vibe has also become a fixture in the world of hipsters and creators. This new campaign, from Mischief, aims to return the brand to its roots: Everything in today's world – even the internet – relies on the trades. Dave Schneider, chief marketing officer of the Red Wing, Minnesota-based company, tells Retail Insider about the campaign's genesis.

Retail Insider: Tell me about this campaign and why you think it's pioneering.

Dave Schneider: I would start with the overarching premise that five skilled tradespeople are leaving [the field] for every one who's entering. That is a societal crisis if you want to think about it through that lens. We want to use the Red Wing brand to help solve that. We are part of the equation. So we are adding the words "Trades-Made" to our logo to remind people that everything around us is made by tradespeople.

It's also a call to action, so we're inviting brands from various sectors to unite and do the same. More than 15 other brands have done that. The more attention we can draw to the trades, the more people will want to find jobs in these fields.

Retail Insider: Why connect with other brands?

Schneider: We make work boots. Creating more of a movement, if you will, by having other brands partner with us, elevates the importance of [what we do]. That creates more of a narrative. This might look self-serving, as if we're only trying to sell more boots, but it's not. This is brand marketing in its purest sense. So we're trying to get other brands to participate. We've done this now a couple of times, and one effort – at the height of the pandemic – drew the participation of several hundred brands.

Retail Insider: You've got an odd role as a CMO, in charge of both the Red Wing brand, sold in many stores, and as a retailer, with 550 stores of your own. How does this play out for both?

Schneider: We are activating this through the line. So yes, it's a brand campaign. And it also works in stores as our footprint continues to grow. We believe that brick and mortar is a core foundational piece of our growth strategy. We have ecommerce, too. But there is something about going into a store, getting fitted and trying the footwear out. And there's a point-of-purchase in our stores for this campaign. We see this as a way for our retailers to engage with their local communities. Of course, we want to drive traffic to stores. But this is a brand campaign.

Retail Insider: The brand also has different audiences. Electricians wear Red Wing, but so do hipsters. How do you represent both, and make sure you know where brand perception falls?

Schneider: It is a conundrum at times. But we've been making work boots since 1905. It is our core DNA. We serve those who are in the skilled trades. And yes, we have a hipster component called our Heritage business. It gives us a nice halo. But it's small compared to our overall business.

The reason hipsters like us is because there has been a massive return to craft in the U.S. And – sorry, but I'm going to rely on the most overused buzzword of the year – it's about authenticity. We have a tannery right here in Red Wing, and we also have a store in Manhattan and other urban areas. But generally speaking, the company is built on work boots.

Retail Insider: What metrics are you watching most closely for this?

Schneider: Since this is a brand effort, we're not necessarily looking at door swings and sales, although that's important to us. One of the best things about working for a privately owned company is that we can do the right thing and not worry about short-term quarterly results as much as others have to. For this, we're tracking brand affinity and awareness.

Retail Insider: You worked with Mischief on this campaign. Is there anything special you'd like to say about the ads or the media placement?

Schneider: Yes, Mischief had been on our radar for a while. One of the cool things is that in three markets, there will be a projection technique on significant buildings – in New York, it's the Brooklyn Bridge. And also happening in Los Angeles and Dallas. We're illuminating the names of real trades workers. They're the backbone of our communities, and we want to show them our gratitude.

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