Asics’ CMO says fresh focus on the brand’s founding ethos will show it’s not just for runners

Kicking off in the UK, Asics has unveiled its biggest brand shakedown in over 25 years as it looks to dial up its relevance towards a broader audience, but can it shake off perceptions that it's a brand reserved for sporty-types lacing up their running shoes at the starting line?

Asics’ new global ‘I Move Me’ campaign, created by Saatchi & Saatchi LA, sees the brand recalibrate the philosophy of its founder, Kihachiro Onitsuka, for a fresh generation of consumers.

In the aftermath of WWII, the entrepreneur retired from his career as a bootleg beer seller to start up his own business in Japan making basketball shoes which eventually evolved to be Asics in 1977. The brand’s name is an acronym for ‘Anima sana in corpore sano’ — a Latin motto meaning ‘A sound mind in a sound body’.

Onitsuka’s ethos is now being championed as part of the brand’s biggest marketing initiative in over two decades, with the sports giant unveiling a new strapline and brand identity with the aim of inspiring people of all ages and abilities to move more, and enjoy both the physical and mental benefits of exercise.

For the brand’s head of global marketing, Paul Miles, the retuned approach doesn’t demonstrate a shift in the brand’s strategy – which has previously been centered around athletes – so much as a modern articulation of its long-established principles.

“Brand purpose is core to our DNA, it is our mission, and we haven’t been able to tell that story well to a larger audience before. A lot of people see us as a very technical running brand, which is great because people trust us for that – but it’s not all about that, we’re not just about that,” he says.

City-specific approach

Asics also owns lifestyle brand Tiger, as well as Onitsuka Tiger and outdoor equipment brand Haglöfs. In 2016 the group enjoyed a strong year, with net sales edging up 0.8% year-on-year globally. In Europe the brand delivered an overall 3% increase in sales to €886m – largely driven by its continued growth in the running category which was up 2%. Tiger, meanwhile, grew an impressive 42% - something that has also clearly inspired a pivot towards targeting a wider audience in a bid to scale.

This shift is exemplified in Asics’ UK iteration of the ‘I Move Me’ proposition, which kicked off this week. Dubbed 'I Move London', the local initiative was devised by Edelman.

Designed to inspire Londoners to trade the misery of the daily commute for the benefits of getting outside and moving more, the push will run at the same time as the city hosts the IAAF World Championships – of which Asics is an official partner. The local initiative will span TV, out of home, experiential and more, and was based on the insight that 92% of those who do physical activity believe it improves their mood.

Different approaches are set to be unveiled for different cities, encouraging consumers to move more – from urban city runners to yoga newbies, and Miles is hoping that taking city-specific takes on the wider proposition can help built out the brand equity its built around running into other markets internationally.

"If you look at our global footprint today, and because we’ve emphasised a lot of research in running, we’re probably seen as that running brand," he says, "however if you look at a lot of the products that we have elsewhere, like in Japan, we actually manufacture and sell things like basketball shirts, and football boots."

It's a challenge the brand has spoken about before, but this time the strategy to overcome it is different. Previously it had looked to build out its reputation into sports like tennis and rugby, rather than weave its way into consumer's everyday lives – as the 'I Move Me' push does.

Speaking on the IAAF partnership, which was inked by Asics after Adidas pulled out early as a partner last year, and whether negative perceptions around the sporting body following doping controversies presented a challenge for the brand, Miles says: "I don’t worry about it so much, I think they’re a great partner and it’s really about sports for me."

Building brand temples

At the heart of its London push is a UK flagship store on Regent Street, which for the first time ever unites its four brands under one roof. The multi-million pound investment follows on from a 10% increase of sales in Asics own full-price stores in the first quarter of the year.

On unifying the brands for the first time, Miles says the decision was taken in order to show consumers that Asics can fit into different moments of their lives, whether they are running in the morning or clubbing in the evening.

The brand plans to open 700 further direct-to-consumer stores by the end of 2020, and the marker thinks the direct-to-consumer experience appeals to shoppers because it leaves a lasting impression of the brand.

"Retail is changing and it’s really not what it used to be. [A store] is not necessarily always the place where people shop now; it can be a brand temple or a experience that helps bring the brand to life."

"We’ve always been very wholesale driven," he adds, saying that while this is still important direct-to-consumer "offers a place where people can go and immerse themselves in the brand."

Where rivals like Nike have gained as much notoriety for being fashion brands as they are sports giants, Asics is looking to be an all rounder and appeal to both athletes and ordinary shoppers alike with its latest proposition.

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