Asics has a new plan to get cool with the help of a world-famous DJ

AsicsAsicsDJ Steve Aoki is joining forces with Asics.
  • Asics is launching a new initiative to reinterpret the brand for American consumers.
  • It has enlisted world-famous DJ Steve Aoki as its spokesperson.
  • CEO Gene McCarthy hopes that this will unlock a new customer base for the brand.

Japanese sportswear brand Asics has a new plan to get cool — and it’s enlisted some help.

The brand is partnering with lifestyle guru and DJ sensation Steve Aoki to launch a new campaign called “I move me.”

Asics America CEO Gene McCarthy called the new initiative a “pivot point” for the brand as it tries to speak more directly to American consumers.

“Our brand has to move and look at things differently. And it has to echo its voice differently than it has in the past,” McCarthy said.

More than just an advertising campaign, the effort is the first prong of Asics’ reintroducing itself into the US market. The brand is known for its running shoes, and McCarthy says that 30% of the runners in the New York City Marathon wear Asics shoes. But runners are a shrinking group, so Asics needs to find new ways to expand its customer base.

“The growth in running is flat to slightly declining, so it just doesn’t make to sense hang your hat on that,” McCarthy said.

Right now, though, Asics is less popular with non-runners. Only 2% of upper-income teens and 1% of average-income teens said that Asics was one of their favourite brands in Piper Jaffray’s semiannual Taking Stock of Teens Survey.

AsicsAsicsAsics wants to form an emotional connection with consumers.

The brand is now striving to reinterpret its mission to capture a new audience. Not content to be a niche running shoemaker any longer, the brand is looking to increase its mainstream appeal, and it’s turning its eye to the US with big plans. McCarthy, an industry veteran with decades of footwear experience, including two decades at Nike, was brought on two years ago to lead the charge.

The Americas now account for a third of the company’s revenue, but the goal is now to increase that by expanding its footprint in the world’s largest and most influential sportswear market: the US.

To achieve that, Asics is looking to the past for inspiration.

Asics was founded in Japan in 1949, in the aftermath of World War II. The brand’s founder thought that the youth of Japan would be healthier if they were more active, and so they created a shoe they could move in. The brand’s name — an acronym of the Latin phrase “anima sana in corpore sano,” which means “of sound mind, of sound body” — came later, in 1977.

AsicsAsicsAsics is opening stores to better tell the brand’s story, according to McCarthy.

McCarthy now hopes to take that ethos and apply it to a modern sensibility, creating a brand that will resonate with a customer outside of professional running. Asics is enlisting Aoki to do so.

The brand will also be opening new stores in trendy districts of New York City, as well as a flagship store on 5th Avenue.

But McCarthy says that Aoki’s partnership with Asics isn’t just about stamping a well-known name on a shoe and sending it out the door to sell.

“We didn’t look for a celebrity. Having a celebrity endorser isn’t always meaningful to the consumer, so we weren’t looking for that,” McCarthy said.

AsicsAsicsThough Steve Aoki is not an athlete, his penchant for fitness fits well with the brand, McCarthy says.

Instead, Aoki gives Asics a voice and a chance to reach customers it might not have been able to speak to otherwise. McCarthy also says that Aoki has some qualities that fit in well with Asics’ ethos: he’s Japanese-American, athletic, and a sneakerhead.

“[Aoki] may be more fit and more athletic than the actual athletes we have relationships with,” McCarthy said.

Aoki will also act as a curator for Asics’ considerable stable of retro designs, and he may in the future experiment with the brand by combining Asics’ traditional shapes and soles in new ways.

AsicsAsicsMcCarthy said Asics doesn’t want to stray too far form its performance niche.

But McCarthy is under no illusions that the addition of a famous spokesperson and a few new retro designs will suddenly make the brand cool again.

“You can’t just decide that you’re a cool brand and make fashion stuff — it doesn’t work that way,” he said.

Instead, McCarthy says that the brand is working on building an emotional connection with new consumers, much like the connection the brand already has with runners.

AsicsAsicsAoki may develop co-branded shoes with Asics in the future, but that’s not currently in the cards.

McCarthy says he realises that now is an “interesting” time to ramp up the brand’s focus on the US market, as industry leader Nike sees declining sales and Under Armour sees shoe sales stagnating.

“The waters are muddy out there. When big, powerful brands stub their toe, sometimes they fall hard,” McCarthy said.

He says he’s not worried about how stiff the competition is, however.

He added: “At the end of the day it’s: What does the consumer think of you? If they think you have values that they can tap into, think you make something that’s precious to them, that’s all that matters. The revenue will come.”

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.