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Brand Strategy Build A Brand Sports & Fitness

Why Asics continues to focus on mental health to differentiate itself from competition


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

July 4, 2024 | 7 min read

Inspired by Dove’s 20-year Real Beauty campaign, Asics intends to build a mental health platform that spans decades. For The Drum’s Sports & Fitness Focus, the sportswear brand’s EVP for EMEA sets out its grand plans.

First Aid Kit but instead its exercise gear

Asics EMEA boss on building a mental health brand platform / Asics

Asics is an acronym for the Latin phrase ‘anima sana in corpore sano,’ which translates to ‘sound mind, sound body.’ Living up to its name, the sportswear brand has spent the past four years doubling down on mental health marketing to differentiate itself in the market.

“There’s a bit of a sea of sameness in the sports industry and by talking about mental health, it allows Asics to differentiate itself from the competition,” says its EMEA executive vice-president, Gary Raucher.

“We want to drive fame and talk ability for the brand; we know that we will not have the same budgets as some of our competitors, so we need to do things that people will care about and will share.”

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A lot of criticism that surrounds purpose is when a brand latches on to a societal issue that it doesn’t have a connection to. But for Asics, Raucher argues, it’s literally baked into the name. “Whereas others might jump on a mental health sort of bandwagon, this is literally in the brand’s DNA.”

So what is the strategy?

Raucher says it helps to have a “clearly defined enemy.” For Asics, that enemy is stress and anxiety. “We look for who are the people and where are the places that are suffering from the highest levels of stress and anxiety. What are the things in society that are contributing to higher levels of stress and anxiety and that is what Asics wants to fight against.”

Raucher tells The Drum that Dove’s Real Beauty campaign is a blueprint for his team. “Dove has a clear positioning; it has a clear enemy but also a 20-year-old campaign, which gives it that consistency. Dove can always find new and creative ways to tell the same story again and again.” That is what he wants to achieve with Asics through its commitment to mental health.

Its most recent campaign, ‘15 Minute Weight Loss,’ hijacked social and Google searches for ‘weight loss exercise,’ instead pointing them to Asics content that promotes the mental benefits of a small amount of exercise. The campaign was built on the insight that searches for quick weight loss had skyrocketed over the past year, but these videos were having a negative impact and actually putting people off exercising.

“So all of a sudden, there’s an opportunity for Asics to be able to come in and take a stand and encourage people to reframe how they are thinking about weight loss.”

Other examples have included billboard ads showing before-and-after images highlighting the transformative effect of exercise not in terms of physique but mental wellbeing, as well as a multi-media campaign challenging perceptions of what constitutes a personal best.

Beyond pure advertising, Asics has built mental health support into contracts with its athletes and conducted research experiments, such as one that asked athletes not to exercise to show the impact not moving had on their minds.

How to measure the impact

Asics measures the success of its mental health campaigns through business, brand and societal metrics. Post-campaign, Raucher’s team will be assessing if it improved brand preference as well as helping Asics to be seen as a “caring brand” or as supporting mental wellbeing.

“We’re doing this with a purpose because we want to help people feel better, but at the same time, we are trying to be more profitable and earn more market share.”

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When measuring the societal impact, Asics runs a yearly ‘State of Mind Index’ to assess whether its campaigns have made a difference to people’s mental health. There are other experiments it runs, including one in collaboration with Redford council, a town in England that had the lowest state of mind score. Asics worked with the local council to get its citizens moving, surveying people before and after the project to prove exercise had made people feel mentally better.

Raucher’s five-point plan

  1. Have a consistent roster of partners.

  2. Maintain a consistent brief telling the same story again and again.

  3. Find new creative devices each time.

  4. Be braver each time you have a little bit of success.

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