2002: Reinvigorated by the Noodle, Maxfli zeroes in on next target

By Gene Yasuda

Whimsical. Bizarre. Silly. Clever.

Such were the varied reactions that met the introduction of the Maxfli Noodle when it debuted a year ago.

Those with a conservative bent mocked the name and derided it as a marketing gimmick that wouldn’t last. But the ball touted as “long and soft” – hence the pasta comparison – is surprisingly, and almost singularly, responsible for reversing Maxfli’s recent demise.

The Noodle has kept Maxfli in the game, so to speak, giving the venerable ball brand a chance to revitalize and transition from Dunlop Slazenger to TaylorMade-Adidas Golf, which licenses Maxfli and is expected soon to acquire it.

Now, Maxfli has set its sights on what it truly covets: Titleist Pro V1’s status – and marketshare – as the indisputable leader of super-premium balls.

Beginning this fall, the premier tandem of Maxfli’s product lineup will be its “Performance Series:” the M3 Tour LT and M3 Tour.

Each of the three-piece balls features a tungsten-enriched mantle, a solid core and a urethane cover. The LT (Low Trajectory) has a 402-dimple pattern that creates a low, boring trajectory off the tee, producing greater roll for high-launch players, company officials said. It also is designed to spin more with short irons.

By comparison, the M3 Tour features a 432-dimple pattern and a larger, lower compression core, which helps reduce driver spin. It already is being used by tour pros Scott McCarron, Ian Woosnam and Tobias Dier.

“The Pro V1 is the primary target,” said Merle Marting, whom TaylorMade-Adidas Golf recently appointed to lead Maxfli’s charge as vice president, global product and brand creation. But Maxfli will also face stiff challenges from super-premium offerings from the likes of Nike, Callaway and Hogan.

Nevertheless, Marting talks about reclaiming Maxfli’s “heritage,” and with no disrespect to its current best-seller, adds, “We don’t want to become known as the Noodle brand.”

If such rhetoric sounds familiar, it should. It is virtually the same message that preceded TaylorMade’s return to a leadership position in metalwoods, which company officials declared was their “birthright.”

TaylorMade used a series of commercials featuring a worldwide cast of professional stars to hammer home the point that it was “the best performance brand in golf.” Expect Maxfli to develop a similar, consistent theme.

That would be a major change for Maxfli, whose slump corresponded with an identity crisis of sorts characterized by schizophrenic ad campaigns that ranged from testosterone-laced distance ads to staid testimonials.

“It’s not 100 percent baked, but the lead-in will focus on, ‘What’s the most important shot in a round? Every single one,’” said Marting, emphasizing that future campaigns will tout M3’s versatility from tee to green.

Though TaylorMade and Maxfli will be targeted at the serious, avid golfer, the two brands will not be marketed together overtly, Marting said. He said each brand will stand on its own, but added that future recruits to the company’s tour staff increasingly will be signed to deals requiring them to use TaylorMade clubs and Maxfli balls. It’s widely speculated that Sergio Garcia is about to sign just such a deal.

In addition to greater exposure on professional tours, Maxfli expects to gain more shelf space at retail. A restructuring of TMAG’s sales force has resulted in 95 full-time representatives – as opposed to independent contractors – who only will sell TaylorMade and Maxfli equipment. Before the change, Maxfli operated with a sales staff of 50.

The M3 will replace the A10, which has received good performance reviews, but hasn’t turned into a hit.

“It’s been a solid offering, but it hasn’t had the same energy as the Noodle,” Marting said. “They (Dunlop Slazenger) just weren’t able to invest deeply into it (A10).”

Though launching and supporting the M3 will be Maxfli’s top priority, TMAG officials have other debuts planned to help grow the brand across all price points in the premium sector.

At the entry point to the category, Maxfli will continue to offer the Noodle for approximately $20 per dozen. At the “core” level of $25 to $30, Maxfli will introduce the A3, a two-piece, Surlyn cover ball that touts distance as its key performance feature. The M3 models will compete at the top level of the premium category for approximately $40.

The new offerings are the first to be produced under the TaylorMade-Maxfli alliance formed in January.

“We can now combine TaylorMade’s club technology and Maxfli’s patents on ball construction,” Marting said. “That’s an impressive marriage.”

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