Asics Chases Nike With Lifestyle Push

NEW YORK Looking for growth in the casual runners market, Asics has tagged its new campaign, “Sound mind, Sound body.”

The effort, via VitroRobertson, San Diego, plays up the sports shoes, apparel and accessory company’s founding philosophy in a series of TV, print, out-of-home and online executions that break this month. Asics is an acrostic for the Latin “Anima Sana In Corpore Sano,” which translates to “Sound mind in a sound body.”

The reason for the focus on lifestyle messaging is that the performance running market, where Asics ranks behind Nike and New Balance, has slowed and many of the major players are looking to the casual running consumers to fuel sales growth.

“[It’s] a new direction for us as a brand,” Gary Slayton, vp, marketing at Asics America, Irvine, Calif., said in a statement. “By revisiting the foundation on which the company was founded, we’re standing for something bigger and more important than just an activity—it’s a way of life.”

Print will appear in category and lifestyle magazines. Creative juxtaposes human models against soft-colored backgrounds and graphics with mathematical taglines. One ad features a runner stretching his quadriceps against a blue background with stadium-light graphics. Tag: “(Sound Mind) x (Sound Body) + Darkness = Enlightenment.” Another features a runner from the waist up stretching his back against a light green background and industrial city skyline. Tag: “(Sound Mind) x (Sound Body) + A Hard Rain = Baptism.”

“A revitalized ad message, in America at least, makes sense for Asics right now,” said John Shanley, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group, New York. “In the U.S. market, they have a strong position in the performance running category, particularly in running specialty [retail] stores . . . Unfortunately those independent retailers in that space are not a growing segment. Every brand, not just Asics, is trying to figure out a way of being able to capture a piece of what is really a shrinking market.”

According to Shanley, the performance running category has been soft for the past year and a half, with particularly acute declines in the women’s end of the business. He added that Nike’s aggressive push of its Bowerman running shoes, bolstered by the athletic giant’s large marketing budget, has “obviously put some pressure on New Balance and Asics and Saucony, who aggressively compete in that area.”

Asics spent $20 million on media in 2006 and almost $25 million last year, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.