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ASICS


  ASICS
runner up
by Barry Silverstein
January 27, 2010

The origin of the ASICS brand is intriguing, if only because the company crossed paths with Blue Ribbon Sports, the forerunner of modern-day Nike.
 
 

Founded in 1964 by Phil Knight and Bill Bowerman, Blue Ribbon Sports was at first a distributor of Onitsuka Tiger, a brand of track sneakers made by a Japanese company started in 1949 by Kihachiro Onitsuka. In 1971, Blue Ribbon Sports ended its relationship with Onitsuka Tiger and went on to produce its own athletic shoe, the “Nike.”

Eventually, Blue Ribbon Sports was renamed Nike in 1978. By then, Onitsuka Tiger had merged with two other companies to form ASICS Corporation. Not to be outdone by Nike, the Greek goddess of victory, the three-company conglomerate came up with the word ASICS, an acronym for a Latin phrase meaning “a healthy soul in a healthy body.”

Today, ASICS is about one-tenth the size of Nike in sales revenue (US $2.1 billion vs. $19.2 billion), yet the firm is anything but a laggard. ASICS was ranked the 26th largest brand in Japan – the only sporting goods manufacturer on the list – by Interbrand in 2009. [For its fiscal year ending March 31, 2009, the company reported a 20 percent increase in revenue over the previous year in spite of the world’s economic woes.]

ASICS still sells the Onitsuka Tiger brand, probably for sentimental reasons. The ASICS brand itself, however, is prominent in Japan and internationally known. ASICS sponsors the Tokyo Marathon, which began in 2007, and in 2009 opened the “ASICS Sports Museum” next to its headquarters building in Tokyo. ASICS has retail stores in Tokyo and London. In October 2009, the company opened its first stand-alone retail store in the United States on 42nd Street in New York City. In April 2010, ASICS shoes will be distributed in India.

How does a relatively small Japanese sporting goods company survive in an ultra-competitive athletic shoe market dominated by the likes of Nike, Adidas, Puma, and Reebok? Primarily through innovation and product quality.

Twenty years ago, ASICS opened the Research Institute of Sports Science in Kobe (200 miles from Tokyo). The 45,000-square foot facility includes an all-weather running track and numerous test rooms. ASICS invites athletes to the facility, both to create tailor-made shoes and to understand their requirements. At ASICS stores, customers can take advantage of a proprietary “Foot ID” system that uses lasers and cameras to take a 3D scan of the foot. This is combined with a gait analysis from a special treadmill to help customers determine the best shoe for their foot and running style.

As for its products, ASICS seems to consistently impress athletes and critics alike. The ASICS “GEL-Kayano 15” model received the International Shoe of the Year award for 2009 from Runner’s World magazine. Another of its models received the highest overall rating of the nine models reviewed in the November/December 2009 issue of Tennis Magazine.

ASICS promotes its products in similar ways to its rivals – through advertising and sponsorships. The company’s current print ad campaign uses all-cap headlines, set in perspective, so the type appears to be moving from the foreground into the background. Accompanying the headlines are dramatic photo-illustrations showing athletes and cities in the background. The ads don’t say much – they are clearly intended to grab attention for the brand name.

Sponsorships have become increasingly important to sportswear companies. ASICS sponsors US NCAA teams, along with individual athletes and the national teams of at least nine countries. ASICS has also been prominent in world competitions: the company was a primary sponsor of the 2006 Winter Olympics and participated in the 2007 World Athletic Championships.

Despite substantial competition from much larger companies, ASICS looks like a maker of quality athletic gear that’s in it for the long run.

 
     
  

Barry Silverstein has been a frequent brandchannel contributor since 2007. He has thirty years of advertising and marketing experience and is currently a freelance writer and marketing consultant. He founded and ran his own direct marketing agency and held executive positions with Epsilon, a leading database marketing firm and Arnold, a major ad agency. Silverstein is the author of three marketing books, including the McGraw-Hill book, The Breakaway Brand, which he co-authored with Arnold CEO Fran Kelly.

  
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