Asics moves past 'blood, sweat and tears' marketing to rediscover founder mindfulness

AsicsTiger's What The Gel campaign

Almost a year after the biggest brand and marketing shake-up in its history, footwear firm Asics has evolved to engage consumers on digital platforms on a weekly basis to integrate with consumers fitness pursuits and their mindfulness routines. This echoes the founding principles of the company in post-war Japan.

Speaking to The Drum, Björn Hamacher, director of marketing EMEA, reflected on how the brand had to grow up, go digital, and took a leaf out of its founder's book in finding a voice that can cut through a competitive market.

Hamacher spent 12 years working at Coca-Cola but made the jump to Asics two years ago. Once established, the self-confessed 'sneaker freak' centralised the company's skill sets in its Amsterdam office as part of a 10 month reshuffle. Its marketers adopted a "dedicated digital twist" hailing from a new integrated marketing comms department.

With the new emphasis, the group was tasked with ensuring Asics engages consumers all year round, a move away from the previous peaks and troughs around product launches. "It is important that we started our creation engine and are out there talking to our consumer with relevant messages all 52 weeks of the year." For him, worst case scenario is putting out only 40 weeks of content.

Performance brand Asics and lifestyle brand AsicsTiger each run their own unique campaigns (I Move Me and What The Gel respectively), these stories will be told with help from a dedicated social media and PR team.

Aside from this, influencers are kept at hand to drive community and engagement in running communities, like those using its Runkeeper app or those training for its marathons in Paris, Barcelona, Stockholm and Frankfurt. Hamacher said: "This is what will make the difference, with this department we are being more agile and creative, we are pushing a lot more stories out there, ideally in a highly relevant way. It is important to do this in a different way to competitors."

He noted that consumer research tags Asics as more relatable and human than its competitors so it embraced that to mobilise new runners.

One of the spaces Asics will be hitting in its marketing comms is running as a salve to the worries of everyday life. Hamacher underlined this: "Running is good opportunity to just put on a pair of sneakers, preferably Asics, get out there for half an hour to just free up the mind. It will get your body and mind in balance."

This reemphasis syncronises with the 100th birthday of Asics founder Kihachiro Onitsuka. He raised the sports brand from the ruins of post-WWII Japan, experimenting with new rubber compounds to deliver the cutting-edge running and athletics technology. "This mindfulness is something that we lost after 20 years, but we are refocusing by putting the founders's principles at the heart of our communications."

So while the public is arguably becoming more aware of mental health issues, according to Asics, more people are taking up running each year. To best ride this wave it is important for Asics to "be the most credible brand in running... we have to put our stake in the ground and have the best possible products."

It is no longer exclusively chasing the best runners. "We don’t care if they are running a 5k, 10k or a marathon, we just want to get people moving."

This is a change or tone from Asics, even a prompt U-turn in messaging.

"We realised that we tried to enter a space where we tried to a brand that we are not. We are not blood, sweat and tears, we need to be true to ourselves, we realised that we have something else to offer, being relatable."

According to consumer research, two of Asic's most notable brand traits are trust and credibility - it is now in a position to harness these sentiments - but it may not be alone in the mental wellness space for long. Hamacher is not worried. "I wouldn’t be surprised if [rivals] did get involved but if we do our job well enough and focus on the space I am not too concerned. We will offer something to the consumers that will hopefully not have them look left and right."

The group is still finding its feet in the digital space. Not long ago the major share of its ad buy went into traditional media, but in less than a year, that entire model has been flipped, led by Starcom. Hamacher said: "We are trying to talk to a younger audience where they spend their time. We won’t reach a peak of comms when we drop a shoe in March and September for three weeks and then go back into radio silence."

On the content front, the brand is envisioning all of its own creative stories around athletes with inspirational stories. It is then taking these ideas to a Rotterdam-based production company. This is all part of its 'hybrid strategy' of working with challenger agencies.

"We are looking for agile and nimble agencies that can deliver in this fast content driven world," Hamacher concluded.

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