How UGG Got Its Y Chromosome Back

UGG boots, the fuzzy-lined sheepskin boots best known for warming the toes of female celebs as they trot around Aspen and college girls as they trudge from class to class, are trying to recapture the interest of their original customer: dudes.

As UGG Australia prepares to introduce its largest assortment ever of men’s styles for fall, the company has enlisted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as the new face of UGG for men. The first commercial spot, called "Steps," with music by Mos Def, follows three-time Super Bowl winner Brady, wearing a variety of UGG men’s footwear, as he runs with a look of smolder-y purpose on his face through a variety of country- and cityscapes. It airs tonight during the NFL's first Monday Night Football game of the season, featuring Brady's Patriots and the Dolphins. 

UGG was originally marketed primarily to the types of outdoorsy, adventure-sports-loving men who shopped in surf and ski shops, though their girlfriends were known to swipe the comfy boots for themselves, or buy them in smaller unisex sizes.

When the UGG Australia was acquired by Deckers Outdoor in 1995, the company shifted its focus to women, who buy more shoes than men and are open to a greater variety of styles. UGG was in the process of repositioning itself from a men’s brand to "men’s, women’s and kids, luxury and comfort," Constance Rishwain, president of UGG, said, and initially the company's ad dollars were shifted to target women. "When I could only afford one ad, it was Vogue."

In 2000, after the company introduced women’s and children’s styles, Oprah Winfrey declared the original sheepskin boots as one of her "favorite things," setting off enormous brand buzz in the way that only Oprah can. UGG's subsequent strong female following was cemented after the company introduced pink and baby-blue styles, and made sure Hollywood’s brightest stars—the Sex and the City cast, Kate Hudson, Oprah—were seen in them.

"It was like a bomb went off," Rishwain said. "That’s where the wait lists started; we couldn’t keep up with it."

And that’s where the brand’s awareness with men started to lag. While growth in the women’s line has been "explosive," Rishwain said (2011 will be UGG’s 13th year of double-digit sales growth, she adds), sales of the men’s styles grew more slowly. And public perception of the brand reflected this.

Judging by some of the recent feedback, UGG has a healthy amount of male skepticism to overcome if it wants to reclaim its image as a men’s brand. "I don’t care if he’s Tom Brady, it’s still a dude wearing UGG," as one YouTube commenter put it.

But UGG is convinced Brady, a blond California native who you could as easily picture on a surfboard as in the end zone, is the right man to help reposition the UGG name as a brand for men, too. Despite his high-profile marriage to Gisele Bündchen, the fact that he just signed a $72 million contract extension, and his metrosexual crossover appeal to women, UGG says Brady—perhaps because he was an underdog second-to-last-round draft pick who went on to win three Super Bowls—somehow still exudes a "normal guy" vibe that will convince men that UGG shoes are cool shoes worn by cool guys.

By the end of this year, UGG will have 50 physical store locations worldwide, and despite its recent increases in the number of men’s styles, customers still express some surprise that the offerings aren’t all pink, leopard print, or marketed toward women.

"Men go in with their wives and see men’s products and pick them up; customers are blown away that we have such a large variety of men’s shoes," Rishwain says. "Going with Tom Brady is going to spread that knowledge that there is a line for men, and to get more of their eyeballs on the brand."

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  • David Kaiser, PhD

    It's curious how women may "borrow" something oringally designated "for men," but men will rarely pick up on something that is understood as "for women." There seems to be an unconscious belief that masculinity is fragile, or susceptible to "infection by association" to femininity. That's limiting. We need to become more secure in our masculinity so that we don't fear women and womens' stuff.

    David Kaiser, PhD
    Executive Coach
    Every Hero and Heroine has a Guide
    Arthur had Merlin
    Luke had Obi-Wan
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    You have Me
    Time to be Extraordinary!

  • Mogwai

    These guys are known in Australia for:
    1. Having zero connection with Australia
    2. Trademarking a decades-old generic, vernacular word (Ugg) and then loosing the legal dobermen on local family-owned and -operated manufacturers who've been selling their ugg boots as 'Ugg boots' for decades, and demanding they change their product description and, in some cases, company name.

    Lawful these practises may be, but I'm not sure its an association that anyone who wears their product signed up for.

    Relevant associations that most brands would shudder at inciting: illegitimate, uncredible, disengenious, cynical, predatory and bullying.

  • D

    Mogwai, I understand it's difficult to see someone take a brand away from it's place of origin to make it grow. But isn't your jealousy of this brand's success a bit much? 
    In reply to your two points:1. Deckers took Ugg to a level that never could have been achieved in Australia. In the process, they have promoted the brand's history and it's connection to Oz. Would you rather they call it Ugg California and ignore its origins? The reasons they do not have their HQ on that relatively sparsely populated island in the southern hemisphere should be obvious to anyone reading a business blog: Market potential is limited there, and logistics are not reasonable for global distribution. I can name quite a few other companies that originated in Australia and have since grown bigger elsewhere.2. Legal enforcement of the Ugg brand is necessary to keep counterfeiting in check. The company has obviously spent a lot of money nurturing the brand's image and developing products. They have an absolute right to protect that investment. In theory, anyone in Australia could have run with the concept of "ugg" and built it up to the level that Deckers did, but no one else did. I suggest you swallow your sour grapes and move on. If you learn from this (and any other) company's success instead of lamenting it, you will benefit.