When local Olympian Alan Culpepper opened up his retail running store, Solepepper Sports, last year, Louisville-based Pearl Izumi got ready to deliver its first order to the shop.

Instead of driving or shipping the shoes over, marketing director Geoff Shaffer and the five members of his "Team Run" group loaded up that first order into vinyl bags, slung the bags over their shoulders and ran the six-mile roundtrip from their offices to Solepepper Sports.

That delivery run sums up the hard-core running character of Pearl Izumi, which is why I was not surprised at the firm`s latest ad campaign, called "Breed like an Animal," a follow-up to the successful "Run like an Animal" campaign. The ads are a bit edgy, not for their imagery, but for the text on the ads.

Pearl Izumi is running an ad campaign called "Breed like an Animal" that s been getting some attention.
Pearl Izumi is running an ad campaign called "Breed like an Animal" that s been getting some attention. ( running ads )

The latest ad read "Let`s Follow the Baby Boom with a Runner Boom," with one woman`s and one man`s shoe shown in the foreground. In the background is a couple -- not wearing their shoes, or anything else. The text reads, in part: "We used our legs to get homo sapiens to the top of the food chain. Now, to keep us up there, we will have to use what`s in between them. ... So breed like an animal. Run like an animal."

Hmmm.

I laughed when I first saw the ad, the latest in a line of catchy ads and slogans, and finally had a chance to catch up with Shaffer last week and ask him about the campaign -- which has drawn plenty of comments, both pro and con, just as did the early ads, which emphasized running vs. jogging. There is also a Web site, complete with a "baby-builder" function to help you load up a nascent DNA double helix with desirable traits.

"When we went with the campaign, we knew we would get some not-so-positive feedback," Shaffer said. "The idea is to create a strong emotional connection" with the serious runners who are Pearl Izumi`s target market. "Our commitment is for people who are passionate about running."

I checked in with a couple of those passionate runners, to see what they thought about the "Breed like an Animal" ads. Brett Astor, a local ad executive and Ironman triathlete, said Pearl Izumi is right on in trying to create a niche for itself in the shadow of behemoths such as Nike and Adidas.

"That is so funny," Astor said while looking at the ad after finishing a run along Boulder Creek on a recent sunny afternoon. "It makes good sense. If Pearl is trying to get attention, it has to do something different. You can`t do what the others are doing. I would say that they did not go far enough."

(A recent video ad for a Reebok shoe does go a bit further. It shows an attractive model, with the camera zooming in on her backside, as she complains with a plaintive "Dude!" Not too subtle, and not a very good ad. Definitely not geared toward serious runners.

MIKE SANDROCK
MIKE SANDROCK
)

Brian Metzler, senior editor of Running Times and a local runner, agreed with Astor, writing in an e-mail message that Pearl Izumi "is first and foremost committed to making really good, technically sound running shoes for people who want to run fast. But because they are relatively new to the shoe industry they are still small and trying to increase their market share. So if you look at it from the point of view that they`re making good product and they are taking bold steps to get the word out, then you can understand what they`re doing."

Metzler added, "If they were making good product and not creating any hype, they`d never grow. Or if they were making poor product with considerable hype, it would eventually backfire.

One in a series of ads for Louisville-based Pearl Izumi shoes.
One in a series of ads for Louisville-based Pearl Izumi shoes. ( running ads )
Are they offending anyone? Perhaps, but that`s the double-edged sword of aggressive marketing. You can`t please everyone, but you are bound to get noticed."

According to Shaffer, being a runner -- and not a jogger -- has nothing to do with how fast you go on your training runs. Rather, it is "about the feeling, the emotion." Shaffer was pleased that in some of the e-mails he has received about the campaign, people tell him, "We love the campaign; it motivates me to go out and run."

There are indeed many great aspects to running, which is why our sport continues growing, even in the midst of a down economy. And as he finished the conversation, Shaffer, who runs three days a week and cycles another three, said he was optimistic about the running business in general and Pearl`s 2010 line of shoes, highlighted by the syncroFuel model. 

"At the end of the day, this (ad) campaign is just a way to get people to engage in our product," he said. "At the end of the day, it is all about the product."