Take a Walk Through the Evolution of Footwear Advertising Over the Last Century

Shoeography | Thursday, May 07, 2020 | 0 comments

Painting may be considered the most popular media found in art collections globally, but advertising has been recognized as an art for decades as well. In fact, one of the giants of American advertising in the 1960s and 1970s, William Bernbach, famously said of the industry, “Advertising is fundamentally persuasion and persuasion happens to be not a science, but an art.” Well-known ads throughout history have found a place in museums and galleries. In 2017, the Museum of Advertising in New York City became the first museum dedicated to celebrating the global advertising industry. And though it officially closed its doors in 2004, the American Advertising Museum was located in downtown Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1986, the museum showcased American advertising from the 18th century to the present day.

The marketing and advertising industry has changed dramatically over the years. Traditionally, marketing efforts relied upon four channels to connect with customers: print, mail, television, and telephone. As we entered the 21st century, however, marketing strategies have evolved to account for the rise of the internet. Let's take a look at how two of America's favorite footwear brands have shifted their advertising and marketing strategies since the mid-20th century.


In 1916, when Keds hit the market, women could not vote, serve in the military or, in most parts of the U.S., serve on juries. Neither did women have access to a comfortable shoe that allowed them to move around freely or stay on their feet for extended periods of time without serious discomfort. Twenty years later, in 1936, Keds began targeting the female consumer, aiming to relieve their orthopaedic woes. They launched a new product, "Kedettes," a washable heeled shoe that offered the same comfort level as a sneaker. Ads were prominently featured in magazines, promoting not only sneakers, but also espadrilles, oxfords, and sandals. You might say Keds' marketing took on a life of its own as female celebrities throughout the 20th century were seen sporting these comfy white sneakers: Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie O. truly made them a fashion statement, and Yoko Ono could be seen wearing a pair of flawless white Keds at her wedding to John Lennon in 1969.

To commemorate Keds' 100th birthday, the company really ramped up their marketing efforts, selecting Taylor Swift as the face of their multi-channel marketing and ad campaign. Acting as the brand's Global Ambassador, Swift also has also designed capsule collections for Keds. On the brand's birthday, July 14, 2016, Keds leaned heavily into social media marketing, posting on Twitter and other social media platforms, "a beautiful feed of every single type of white shoe that we make," CMO Emily Culp told Adweek.

What makes Keds an incredible case study for footwear marketing and advertising? Decades before athletic shoes were even a consideration for women, Keds found lasting success by marketing primarily to the female consumer. It's an unlikely niche-marketing success story.


Few brands are as iconic and recognizable as Nike. The American sportswear company was founded in 1964 as Blue Ribbon Sports, but it launched the Nike brand shoe in 1972 and officially changed its name to Nike, Inc. in 1978. The illustrious "swoosh" may have been a staple of the brand from the very beginning, making its debut on the shoes in the spring of 1972, but the now universally recognized slogan of "Just Do It" wasn't coined until 1988. In fact, Nike ran through a number of slogans and taglines throughout the years, starting with their earliest "There is no finish line" campaign.

Nike is also a brand that is no stranger to controversy. In fact, even their "Just Do It" slogan comes from not-so-wholesome beginnings. The slogan was inspired by the last words of Utah killer Gary Gilmore, a man sentenced to death in 1977 for robbery and murder. Gilmore allegedly said, “Let’s do it” when he faced his execution.

"I like the 'do it' part of it," Dan Wieden, the head of ad-agency Wieden & Kennedy told filmmaker Doug Pray in his 2009 documentary "Art & Copy".

Nike is also known for its celebrity endorsements. The most recent "controversial" celebrity ad featured NFL player Colin Kaepernick (known for his silent, peaceful protest by kneeling during the national anthem) and the tagline, "Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” But Nike's history with celebrity endorsements started decades ago. The first professional athlete to endorse the brad was Ilie Natase, a Romanian tennis player. But perhaps the most important sponsorship signing in Nike's history was that of NBA star Michael Jordan in 1984. Nike went on to feature some of the biggest names sports, including LeBron James, Charles Barkley, Ken Griffey Jr, Roy Jones Jr, Lance Armstrong, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, and Ronaldinho.

While such an iconic brand as Nike has the loyal following of athletes and consumers across the U.S. and the world, they're still branching out to make good use of newer marketing techniques these days. One example of Nike's experimentation with digital marketing methods is the collaboration between Nike Air Jordan and Facebook Messenger bot. They're using the conversational AI platform Snaps to deliver content from the Air Jordan blog, Jordan.com, and Jordan News to users. Messenger bots offer two-way conversations, giving users a unique opportunity to connect with the Nike brand.

Footwear advertising and marketing has been around for centuries, but the transformation it's made just over the past 100 years is simply outstanding. Keds, Nike, and many others are turning to digital marketing as the online landscape expands and evolves. And why wouldn't they? Studies show that SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate, demonstrating just how powerful digital marketing strategies can be for all industries.

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