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What Warren Buffett, running shoes and zombies have in common

Daniel Roberts
Writer

You could call it "The Running Dead." It only took 102 years in business, but Seattle-based Brooks Sports has rolled out its first-ever TV ad campaign. The three-minute spot, produced with creative agency Leo Burnett, shows a wave of staggering zombies, chasing down innocent humans, until they break into a store and put on Brooks sneakers. Next thing you know, the zombies are happily jogging around town, waving to people.

The ad had its national debut on NBC earlier this month during the Olympic Marathon Trials. Next, it will play in movie theaters before screenings of "Race," the new film about runner Jesse Owens. And in the meantime, you can find it on YouTube or Brooks's web site. "It's a fun one," says Brooks CEO Jim Weber. "We're trying to show that our shoes can make zombies... almost human." The ad is part of a larger Brooks brand campaign around the slogan, "Live the way you run."

Brooks was a full athletic apparel brand until 2001, when it slimmed down to focus just on running. "We burned the boats and said, you know what, we're going to be a running brand. And we have been extremely successful since that shift." Indeed, the brand sold to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A) in 2006.

Since then, Buffett has given the company room to run at its own pace. Among the vast Berkshire portfolio, Brooks has peers like See's Candies in Los Angeles and Jordan's Furniture in Massachusetts—small, steady performers Buffett adores. Berkshire, Weber says, is "the most unique culture I've ever been around in business. We're trying to build a brand for the long haul, and Warren is cheering us on. It's a cliche to say, 'We can afford to have a long-term view,' but he actually insists on it." Brooks has one flagship store, in the Fremont area of Seattle, and sells in other brick-and-mortar stores in more than 50 countries.

In addition to its first TV ad, this spring Brooks will launch Stride Signature, a system that asks customers how they like to feel on a run—soft, springy, flexible, or fast—and offers up the best running shoe for each person. Around the time of that launch, Brooks will also get the same annual bump in buzz it enjoys every year around April: the special 5K race Brooks holds in Omaha, Neb., during the weekend of the Berkshire annual meeting.

On April 30, you can watch the meeting, and see some of the Berkshire Hathaway fanfare in Omaha, live on Yahoo Finance.

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Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. 

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