NEWS- Feet pimping: Local biz has plans for your feet

Charlottesville Running's Francesca Conte shows off the p-word.

This is not your Grandma's advertising slogan– or even your mother's. The latest local campaign for selling sneakers makes Nike's 1990s-era "Just Do it" seem like Sunday School advice.

It comes from Charlottesville Running Company, and it represents a metamorphosis of sorts for a p-word. The slogan is "Pimp Your Feet," a command now strewn across t-shirts and repeated over the airwaves of FM radio 106.1, the Corner, and attracting plenty of attention– and not just from runners.

"People get it's just for fun," says Charlottesville Running's Francesca Conte. "It's catchy because exercising and running should be fun, too."

She says the slogan is meant to lure customers into the store to custom-fit their sneakers through video analysis of their gait. She says the phrase is also linked to "Get Moving Charlottesville," a new non-profit dedicated to improving local health.

However, not all local running outfitters are jogging to the same beat. Mark Lorenzoni, owner of Ragged Mountain Running Shop, says he has supported myriad health causes over his 20 years in business, but he declines to use such modern advertising slogans, since his store is "more traditional than that."

Conte, who owns the downtown store with her partner, Russell Gill, says they brainstormed the idea together after being inspired by auto customization shows such as MTV's long-running Pimp My Ride.

Since its early 2004 debut, Pimp My Ride has helped usher in a new new use for a word that was once merely a noun. And since it meant the boss, protector, and sometimes abuser of a prostitute, it was not always a word welcomed in polite company.

Today's usage suggests that "to pimp"  is to achieve higher status, or street credibility, by updating one's accessories. But how this word made the leap into a mom and pop running shop's marketing strategy could stretch a consumer's imagination. 

Local advertising executive Pam Fitzgerald explains that because English is a "word order" language, it's possible for writers to come up with endlessly imaginative combinations– even for a word like pimp.

"Leveraging its effect in new contexts gives power and control to the user," says Fitzgerald, owner of the Ivy Group agency. "The use of the word 'pimping' these days targets a wannabe-hip market segment that associates the word with the sly glitz and glitter of 1972 Detroit without all the negative connotations." 

Although the word may no longer have overtly negative implications, it may still stir up mixed emotions. UVA associate professor of linguistic anthropology Dan Lefkowitz says that pimp "is titillating as an ad gimmick because it makes people uncomfortable."

Conte says that while the eye-catching phrase is targeted at younger audiences, it hasn't offended any of the store's variety of customers. But Lefkowitz emphasizes that part of the appeal may be subconscious.

"I think there's a set of assumptions about race in the U.S. and stereotypical behaviors associated with race that underlie the use of pimp, so that people can defend the use of pimp by saying that it doesn't really mean that," says Lefkowitz. "There's this deniability that's crucial to these provocative language uses." 

So if "pimping" no longer conjures images of a fedora-wearing, smooth-talking man in a shiny three-piece suit, one may have MTV to thank. Or Charlottesville Running Company.



"how the use of the word made its way..." or sort of like, how the the word "news" somehow made it into the mom and pop "paper" called "the hook" that slang for "hooking up" a.k.a. sleeping with random strangers?

It was goog meeting you both this morning and I look forward to bringing this project forward.

Jon Shepard