Everyone knows exercise is good for their physical health. And thanks to the pandemic, the world has gotten the memo that it's essential for mental health, too. Now, ASICS is looking for new ways to show how it boosts cognitive performance, with a new feature-length documentary on Prime Video that tracks the four-month journey of four physically mind-gamers who started an exercise program. It highlights the brand's research, showing gains not just in game skills but in memory and confidence.
Gary Raucher, executive vice president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, tells Marketing Daily about the new effort.
Marketing Daily: Past marketing for ASICS has often leaned into its purpose and the name, an acronym for the Latin of “A sound mind in a sound body.” How does this new effort fit it?
Raucher: About two and a half years ago, we decided we'd go back to our roots. We changed our tagline to explicitly say, "Sound mind, sound body." And we set out to demonstrate the connection. People know it intuitively, but we wanted to prove it. So we've been doing a series of experiments.
We're a very technical brand, priding ourselves on the innovations from our Institute of Sports Science. We wanted to apply that same scientific rigor to our marketing that we've always done with our products. We focused first on the emotional uplift.
With this, we wanted to see if exercise could boost the brain power of people. So we selected these gamers, figuring that if exercise can boost the brain power of the sharpest minds, imagine what it can do with the rest of us.
Marketing Daily: How did you choose them?
Raucher: We worked with Professor Brendon Stubbs from Kings College of London, then recruited 77 people. We chose mind-gamers from all over who excelled in their chosen sport. And they were all physically inactive, but willing to try a program of 150 minutes of exercise per week. Four of them, with the most interesting backstories, are in the film.
Marketing Daily: How are you connecting the findings to other marketing?
Raucher: We started with developing the Mind Uplifter app to allow people to see the impact of movement on their minds. That's given us crowdsourced data, which led to our State of Mind index, which identified people in places that most needed an uplift. So we chose a town in the U.K., working with the municipality to transform it into a movement-inspired gym.
We also did a marketing activation called the Mind Race and looked at what happens if we take movement away from people already moving. We were probably the first sports brand to encourage athletes to stop moving. Predictably, they started to have racing thoughts—which led to the campaign we called the Mind Race. The good news is that we learned that it only takes 15 minutes and nine seconds to reverse the negative impact of not exercising. So we encouraged people to move 15 minutes and 9 seconds.
Marketing Daily: Many people focused on the emotional benefits of exercise, especially during the pandemic. Is this a little pivot from mood to cognition?
Raucher: I wish the world were in a place where they didn't need to improve their emotional health! In 2019, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic of stress and anxiety. COVID made it worse. It's not going away. So we know we need both. Our campaigns have been and will continue to be a mix of promoting emotional and cognitive health.
Marketing Daily: How much of this effort is preaching to the choir? Are the goals to win non-exercisers over or to make exercisers feel better about themselves?
Raucher: The goal is to inspire people who aren't moving as much as they should. But we need to make sure we're not alienating the core audience -- the people who know and buy the brand.
Marketing Daily: The running boom, which started as a direct result of the pandemic, isn't slowing. And smaller brands, including Hoka One One, ON Running and New Balance, are doing better than giants like Nike and Adidas. How does ASICS fit in?
Raucher: A problem with the sports industry is that most brands look, feel and sound the same. We've researched brand archetypes, and almost all sports brands are either Ruler or Hero brands. Rulers value winning over everything -- talk about dominance and perfection. Heroes say you might not be the winner yet, but if you put in the blood, sweat and tears, you might be one day.
We're fundamentally different. We're a caregiver brand. Our athletes' and consumers' health and well-being are more important than any medal or podium position. It's why we put so much emphasis on injury prevention and making sports accessible.
In the past, we've fallen into that trap -- that sea of sameness. A few years back, we returned to that difference, putting our purpose at the centerpiece of all our marketing activities.