Started by a former Japanese military officer Kihachiro Onitsuka in 1949, the brand Onitsuka Tiger was born in hopes of raising the spirit and health of the postwar youth in Japan through athletics.
The first shoe ever developed by the brand was for basketball with anti-slip sole and a suction patterning on the outsole, which would remain an iconic staple in future designs.
The company later branched out to develop a running shoe that prevented blisters and managed to convince even the legendary Olympic-champion barefoot runner Abebe Bikila to wear shoes for the first time in his running career.
The brand gained global popularity for its premium performance running shoes during the 1966 pre-trial for Olympics 1968 in Mexico. The introduced shoe, formerly known as Limber, adorned the distinctive crossed stripes that became the trademark of the brand.
The original ‘Limber’ edition that was renamed Mexico 66 to mark its rise to fame. Credit: size?.
In 1977, the company changed its name to ASICS after merging with sportswear-manufacturer GTO, and knitwear-manufacturer Jelenk. The name is an acronym derived from the latin phrase ‘Anima Sana in Corpore Sano’ — a sound mind in a sound body.
The ‘Onitsuka Tigers’ are now the ASICS vintage line and still offered at stores.
ASICS has successfully created a name for itself among amateur and professional athletes as a trusted performance brand through a range of high quality footwear made for running, tennis, wrestling, and volleyball.
Alistair Cameron, CEO of ASICS EMEA, admitted, however, that the brand was only ‘internally’ well known. More than half of the participants in the 2011 New York marathon wore ASICS running shoes but not everyone could identify the brand.
The company decided to increase its reach by focusing on lifestyle-oriented products to become known for more than just a good running shoe.
In 2013, the brand launched a year-long multi-channel global campaign called ‘The Journey of Improvement’ that was delivered across television, print, and ASICS’ social channels.
Aimed to encourage people to develop and improve their exercise regime with the slogan ‘Better Your Best’, ASICS emphasized the importance of tech and product innovation to stimulate, motivate and inspire others.
ASICS video campaign showing its product in everyday scenarios.
The company also launched its mobile app MY ASICS in 2013 to complement and improve its training program. The app was able to track the runners’ time and distance and customize training to fit each runner, greatly improving a user’s experience.
In addition to enhancing its digital capabilities, ASICS decided to appeal to new demographics. By combining sports performance and the distinctive cult cumulated by Onitsuka Tiger sneakerheads, the company introduced the label ‘Asics Tiger’ to serve the luxury sports lifestyle market.
Asics Tiger offers trendy designs and collaborates with famous domestic and overseas sneaker boutiques including Colette in Paris, Slam Jam in Milan, and Patta in Amsterdam to target the younger, more fashionable, and streetwear conscious enthusiasts.
An example of this is the Gel-Kayano Trainer Knit that ASICS is marketing through a series of videos highlighting creatives around the world – wearing the Knits, of course.
First promotional video for Gel-Kayano Trainer Knit featuring video stars London-based model and visual artist Daniel Pacitti. Source: ASICS Youtube.
Asics Tiger concept store in Japan.
“We wanted to evolve the core of the brand’s heritage. To achieve this, we designed a bold graphic type that can be broken apart and layered over image,” expressed Laura Stein, Creative Director of Brau Mau Design, the company in charge of keeping Asics Tiger fresh.
“Our aim is to now make it [ASICS] become more attractive among sneakerheads and squad leaders,” commented Luca Bacherotti, Regional Managing Director South Europe ASICS.
In order to do so, the company has made use of different labels to target different audiences: ASICS, Onitsuka Tiger, and Asics Tiger. They give the company image flexibility among audiences and still market the quality they are known for.
“Our strategy is about being number one in running. That won’t change – but there’s a natural affinity to running and other sports. Three out of four people who buy ASICS (products) use it for sport. That’s almost double the rate of the market, which is more like four out of 10 because people use them for leisure also,” said Max Keen, Marketing Manager for ASICS.
In Q1 2017, the company’s consolidated net sales were down four percent due to weak results in the US and Europe whereas, Asia saw an increase of 11.3%.
ASICS has already opened more retail stores in Asia Pacific, including India, Korea and Singapore, as the majority of its sales came from brick and mortar.
ASICS believes that identifying an underserved populace is the key to in-person shopping.
“Around 15-20% of our total sales in the country (India) comes from the online and ecommerce channel while the remaining comes from the physical stores and that is where our focus is. But we are happy with our online sales number,” said Rajat Khurana, Managing Director of ASICS India.
The company’s goal is to change the ratio of revenues from its lifestyle labels to 40% from the current 20% ratio.
With the rise of athleisure in retail, customers are placing more importance on meaningful brand identity to choose what to wear and ASICS have taken the necessary steps to evolve its brand story.
The company seems to be running on the right path in line with Nike and adidas by showing full dedication to multi-channel and will continue to be under the spotlight as a Gold Sponsor for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.