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Wildlife ads show Gore-Tex's adaptability

For years, W.L. Gore & Associates has made a worldwide name for itself by speaking with a quiet voice, content to stand in the shadows while its partners took the main stage.

These days, Gore's not acting so shy.

The company, based in Elkton, Md.,makes Gore-Tex performance fabrics and has launched a global, multimillion-dollar effort to elevate its image, enlisting a menagerie of wild animal models to show how its outdoor apparel helps users adapt, survive and excel.

In one print ad, a prowling fox — its fur naturally suited for harsh weather — visually morphs into a crouching man who's being wrapped by strands of Gore waterproof fabric. In other ads, human shapes meld seamlessly and strikingly into other creatures — a butterfly, a bear, a shark.

Steve Shuster, global brand manager at Gore, would not specify how much Gore is spending on the advertising campaign, other than to say it is the costliest in company history.

The multiyear campaign is now being introduced in Europe and America, putting the Gore identity prominently onto retailers' floors for the first time. Through the use of four new "product classes" — each meant for a different level of enthusiast — the rebranding effort also gives those retailers a new method of steering customers toward the right products.

Ultimately, the aim is to create a brand identity that stands out unmistakably from the competition.

Traditionally, "standing out" is not necessarily something that has concerned this proudly unorthodox firm. For years, its notoriety in the outdoor apparel market has come despite Gore's preference for playing a support role in the products of other brands.

It's an approach that has worked, leading many consumers to prefer products with "Gore inside," even if they weren't entirely certain what it was or how it worked.

"They're buying it not necessarily because they're planning to climb Mount Everest, but because it represents something that's difficult to quantify" and desirable to be part of, said John Shanley, an industry analyst with Susquehanna International Group in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

The ad campaign hopes to reinforce those consumer preferences, using slick graphics and the images of adaptation in nature to portray Gore as a company that offers "creative solutions." Ultimately, Gore hopes, the scope of customers who demand their products — "brand insistence," as Shuster calls it — will reach even farther around the planet.

"We believe the campaign has enormous leverage on a global basis," Shuster said.

Such a goal is an ambitious — and tricky — task for any company, even one as innovative as Gore, said Tom DeSanto, executive vice president of the Wilmington, Del., advertising, marketing and public relations firm Aloysius Butler & Clark.

"That's a difficult thing to do because different cultures value different attributes," he said. Successful global branding identifies the places where those cultural attributes intersect, he said.

The campaign is also coming at a time of increasingly energetic maneuvering by outdoor apparel manufacturers, Shanley said.

"There is a concerted effort being launched by a number of different companies ... to differentiate their products in the marketplace," he said. Retailers in particular are looking for branding advantages to stand out in the fairly static niche of outdoor apparel, he said.

That's where the animals come in. The beasts used in the Gore ads are the kinds of images that hold the potential to make people stop and stare — especially when they seem to morph into human form, Shuster said.

"We want to stop and engage them, make this emotional connection and have them do something," like visit the Web site, Shuster said.