Heroes, Villains Out to Hold The Tiger in New Asics Ads

Sneaker maker Asics doesn’t have the ad budget of a Nike or a Reebok. So, in an effort to get the most out of its budget in a category dominated by athlete-oriented advertising, StrawberryFrog’s first global print campaign for Asics’ Onitsuka Tiger line presents the shoes as a fashion brand, playing off Asics’ Japanese heritage with heroes and demons to appeal to a hip audience.

Two print ads that break in May magazines are styled on posters for 1960s-style Japanese action movies. One execution shows a man wearing a shiny red jumpsuit and tiger- patterned helmet running from a ninja witch on a motorcycle. The man clearly is able to outrun the witch because of his magical Tiger sneakers.

“We’ve used older demons from [Japanese] culture and movies … but the Tiger Force [character’s] shoes are the heroes of the ads,” said Scott Goodson, co-founder and creative partner at StrawberryFrog, an Amsterdam-based independent. “There’s an over-abundance of sports imagery in advertising today, especially in the run-up to the Olympics—we didn’t want to use that clichéd imagery.”

The ads will appear in emerging lifestyle magazines such as 34, which was started by former editors of Wallpaper. “The U.S. market is important because there are a lot of sneaker-heads [there],” added Goodson. “[We wanted] the ads to appear in new magazines that people would [see] and think” of Asics as cutting-edge. The target is the “art-house crowd,” he said.

The print work is complemented by a non-traditional element, “Fish Gutter,” a short film created by the agency that concerns a Tokyo man who guts fish and is training for the Olympics. At the end, the man walks on his hands, with tiny Tiger shoes on each finger. The film, directed by Jasper Zwartjes, has been entered in 50 film festivals worldwide.

“We want [Tiger shoe] to be positioned as the authentic trend sneaker brand to the creative left of Puma,” said Goodson.

Outdoor ads and posters will break this summer for Asics—which, according to Hoover’s Online, had worldwide sales of $1.1 billion in 2003, up 16.5 percent from the year before.

“The new Tiger Force campaign is another in a series of smart and unconventional campaigns that are getting results for us,” said Carsten Unbehaun, head of marketing at Asics in Tokyo.

The agency relaunched Tiger shoes last June at the Cannes Film Festival by sending out 1,000 Chinese-food takeout containers, each with a pair of sneakers inside, to journalists.

Spending was undisclosed. Asics spent about $10 million on advertising in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.