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Campaigns

ASICS unveils blackout running track to highlight the importance of mental strength

The ASICS Blackout Track
The ASICS Blackout Track

ASICS has unveiled the Blackout Track, a sports track in east London aiming to help runners win the ‘mental race’ by freeing them from any distractions.

The 150-meter course is set in complete darkness and features no technology, no music, no finish line and none of the other comforts associated with training for a marathon, thus forcing the runner to focus on synchronizing the mind and body. The initiative supports the launch of the Gel Kayano™ 25 shoe.

“ASICS was founded on the belief that a sound body fuels a sound mind, so this campaign goes right to the heart of who we are as a brand,” said ASICS’s global CMO Paul Miles. “Our promise is to bring our founder’s vision to life in the modern-age – where negative distractions of the mind can prevent us from reaching our potential and going the distance.”

During the launch campaign, the track will also host a series of events to demonstrate the idea that in running it’s not the strongest physique that goes the long distance, but the strongest mind. Events include a 10K ‘mental marathon’ and a scientific experiment that shows the importance of mental strength for physical fitness.

“By exposing how easily the mind can be influenced, the campaign is designed to remind athletes of any ability about the importance of training both the mind and body, to reach their goals in sport and life,” said Fiona Berwick, strategic planner in ASICS’ global marketing team.

The track initiative was inspired by a technique practiced by long distance runners such as the Japanese, in which they run in loops for one or two miles without any technology.

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Editor's pick product technology

Nike unveils raft of innovations including adaptive lacing and new personalisation app

Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit
Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit

Nike was in an innovative frame of mind yesterday as it unveiled a raft of tech-based sports shoes that it said represented “new breakthroughs in performance… the all-access pass to your potential”.

I must admit, I wish the announcements these companies make would be less hyperbole-laden. I always go into default sceptic mode when I hear those regular press release words like “groundbreaking,” “pioneering” and not forgetting the favourite “revolutionary”.

But to be fair to Nike, when you strip back the superlatives, you do get some real steps forward (pun intended).

Nike’s new adaptive lacing
Nike’s new adaptive lacing

The innovation came through in launches such as its “adaptive lacing” platform, as well as a “pioneering” football technology that separates mud from cleats and “transformations” in the Nike Air and Nike Flyknit lines.

Nike CEO Mark Parker also unveiled the new Nike+ app that connects athletes with the brand’s products and services “in a simple, seamless way”. The company says it delivers a personal store and on-demand coaching through a personal feed that recommends products tailored to the user, coaching for all levels that adapts to each person’s performance and schedule, and a fair bit more.

Continuing with the superlatives, here’s more of what Parker said: “Today… represents a fundamental shift in how we serve the athlete. We’ve entered a new era of personalised performance. Athletes want more than a dashboard and data – they want a more personal relationship, one that gives them real solutions and total access to the best product and services.”

Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit
Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit

What this all boils down to is innovation in materials, fastenings and soles as well as all the extra services that the app will bring. This is some of what’s coming:

  • Nike HyperAdapt 1.0: Ushering in this new era of personalised performance, it’s the first-ever step in the concept of “adaptive lacing”. That means self-tying to you and I. It delivers a precise fit that can be adjusted to the changing needs of the game so your heel will hit a sensor and the system will automatically tighten, although the wearer can also adjust the lacing via special buttons. Shoes using this tech will be exclusively available to purchase through the new Nike+ app, which means you won’t be able to buy them unless you sign up to Nike+.
  • Air VaporMax Flyknit: Since the advent of the Air platform 40 years ago, designers required foam and rubber to separate the Air and the foot for support and traction purposes. But not amy more as the firm’s research has allowed “these barriers [to] be removed to create maximum feel and efficiency for runners”. Nike said this development “reimagines how footwear is made and offers athletes the purest cushioning ever created”. The Air VaporMax features Nike’s most advanced Air bag unit to date. It debuts not only more extreme, targeted Air placement but also more Air than before. Discarding the traditional foam midsole, sheds weight and bulk in exchange for better flexibility, without compromising structure. Weight and waste are reduced, and placing the upper directly on the Nike VaporMax Air unit ramps up response, the company says.
  • Nike Zoom Superfly Flyknit spike: This gets even more specific, introducing a knit pattern that provides mid-foot support adapted to the centrifugal force of the track. Plus, the innate construction of Flyknit eliminates the weight associated with traditional cut-and-sew uppers.
  • Anti-Clog Traction: No, it’s not a declaration of war on Crocs or traditional dutch footwear! It’s clog as in clogging, and helps prevent mud from sticking to the bottom of football boots (cleats) with a new adaptive polymer to help players avoid the slips and excess weight that can be a monumental pain.
  • Flyknit: I have to admit, the Flyknit platform was something of a game-changer and it’s now available in all sports for all athletes in all conditions, a major leap forward for a technology that four years ago launched solely for marathoners. The combinations of yarns and digital knitting techniques that make up Flyknit now offer athletes stronger and more weatherproof options.

This post first appeared on Trendwalk.net, a style-meets-business blog by journalist, trends specialist and business analyst, Sandra Halliday

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business data Editor's pick technology

The brand, the brand, the brand: 8 highlights from Under Armour’s CEO at SXSW

underarmour

A highlight keynote session at this year’s SXSW Interactive festival came from Under Armour CEO and founder, Kevin Plank. Inevitably well versed in how to play the media machine, this was one of the smoothest talks about brand building and transformation you’ll have ever seen.

“We went from being a products company to an ideas company,” he said as one of his opening gambits, and the reason why he predicts the business will grow from a $4 billion one today, to $7.5 billion by 2018. Connected fitness is a significant part of making that happen too.

Here are eight other quotable quotes you need to know from the hour-long interview:

  • “Culture eats strategy for breakfast. Culture is everything. For us it’s the brand; the brand, the brand, the brand. No matter what we do it comes back to relying on the brand. And this begins with the founders; the core individuals who got our company going”
  • “Over promise and then deliver. We already slept yesterday. Today we work. It’s an attitude of saying we’re going to find a way. That attitude is extremely important for Under Armour”
  • “I like being defined as a performance company. It’s unlimiting. It’s an untethered approach to the way we’re seen”
  • “A brand is a story. It has a beginning, middle and an end. Every product we build is like a chapter, every athlete we sign and every interaction we have. All of them are a chapter in our brand story”
  • “Wherever we’re going is an evolution… we’re not limiting that to apparel or footwear, but to the idea that anywhere our logo shows up it has to be the best. It just has to be the best”
  • “Our belief is data is the new oil. You think it’s a coincidence Google or Amazon is who you’d bet on? 40% of their revenue is attributed to purchase history… The companies who will win are those using math.”
  • “I always have in red pen: ‘Don’t forget to sell shirts and shoes’. We take you up on the loop-de-loop but then take you out through the gift shop. It’s about not forgetting that we sell shirts and shoes”
  • “We’re in the first innings of this game. We are just getting going [with connected fitness]… Our aim is to give you something and make it so you couldn’t live without it after”
Categories
business e-commerce technology

Under Armour’s power performance: Athleisure & connected fitness

underarmour1

How important is ‘athleisure’ as a trend that’s impacting sales figures for sportswear companies? Well, sports brands never really own up to that. But the sales growth some of the big names are seeing suggests that it’s a real sales driver. Just look at Under Armour’s latest results.

The company released its Q4 figures this week, turning in an eye-popping 31% revenue rise to $1.17bn. Wow. You don’t get that from just selling to committed sports and fitness fanatics.

Under Armour is one of those companies that has really been benefitting from the athleisure trend and while yesterday’s upbeat news wasn’t all about sportswear as a lifestyle choice (rather than a sports one), the lifestyle factor obviously did loom large. Interestingly, lifestyle is giving a major boost to sports clothing sales. Where once upon a time all the sexy news was about footwear, now apparel is enjoying its time in the spotlight.

Apparel sales for Under Armour rose a massive 22.2% and at $864.8m in the three months to December 31 they obviously make up the biggest chunk of the firm’s revenue, driven by demand for training, running, golf and basketball duds. Obviously, you don’t see 20%-plus growth in each quarter for 25 consecutive quarters by just supplying clothes for active sports. That means a lot of people bought those training, running, golf and basketball pieces for working in, for relaxing, posing and partying in… as well as for getting fit.

womenshoe_UA

Footwear had a good quarter too though, with sales almost doubling to $166.9m as new running shoes and the signature Stephen Curry basketball line proved hugely popular. Again, you only have to look around any group of friends at work or off-duty to see how even the most high-performance shoes have transitioned from the track and court to the bar and office.

And accessories sales soared as well, rising 23% to $97.1m, driven primarily by new bags. Meanwhile online sales grew 25% in Q4 and now make up 36% of total Under Armour revenue, and international net revenues rose 70% (or 85% currency-neutral) to make up 12% of the total. That all helped net profit to rise 20.4% to $105.6m, or 48 cents per share.

Any negatives?

Can this impressive performance continue? Well, the firm expects revenue growth of 25% this year so, yes. That prediction obviously countered any worries investors may have had that the athleisure trend fuelling such explosive growth might end any time soon.

Some analysts and investors were concerned about reports that Under Armour is losing womenswear market share – a particularly disconcerting thought given that women are helping to drive the athleisure trend. The Wall Street Journal quoted data from SportScanInfo saying the company saw a 7.7% drop in womenswear sales in December (compared to a 6.6% rise for Nike). But Under Armour has countered this saying the data captured only represents 40% of its business (it doesn’t include wholesale or online sales, for instance).

Yet there are still some downsides in Under Armour’s performance. The company’s margin slipped in Q4 as it boosted inventory levels to ensure it could meet demand and keep shelves stocked. The negative aspect of this high inventory level is unsold product that ends up being marked down.

underarmour2

And lower margins make analysts nervous, especially when they’re already worried that a fashion trend (athleisure) fuelling massive sales growth could flip suddenly and become yesterday’s fashion news.

But is athleisure really a fashion trend any more or has it evolved into a true lifestyle phenomenon that’s a reflection of society’s increasing move away from formal clothing? I’m inclined to think the latter. In many ways it’s the logical conclusion of a trend that started over 50 years ago and I don’t think it’s going to go away, even when the fashion pendulum swings in another direction.

Future focus

So, assuming that athleisure is here to stay and that the firm’s power growth can continue (for a while at least), what will Under Armour be offering this year to make it happen?

CEO Kevin Plank said the firm will deliver new iterations of signature product across premium price points and distribution throughout this year. It’s doubling its “elevated running” offerings priced above $100 including the launch of its first smart shoe, SpeedForm Gemini 2 RE, and SpeedForm Slingshot, made with a 3D knitting process.

In apparel, it will debut two new HeatGear apparel cooling technologies, Microthread and CoolSwitch, while also launching a proprietary ColdGear insulation story called Reactor.

OK, a lot of people are going to buy into that sport-focused tech for nothing more vigorous than the walk to the bus stop. But the company is also going to offer plenty for the true fitness-focused community, not only with clothes and shoes, but via major developments in Connected Fitness.

Earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show, it unveiled the new UA Record, the digital dashboard app for health & fitness, and a suite of new products led by Under Armour HealthBox, which it described as “the world’s first complete Connected Fitness system.”

And while all that can help consumers monitor their fitness, importantly, it can help Under Armour monitor its consumers too! That’s not as creepy as it sounds; the company isn’t watching us. But CEO Kevin Plank did say it could achieve a “more complete picture of [its] consumer”. He added: “We are establishing our data-driven math house that will provide us with real-time information to make better decisions and build even better products. More importantly, it will provide deeper insights, recommendations, and personalised content.”

So there you have it – something for everyone no matter how fitness-focused you are. As for me, I think I’ll stick to the hoodie and leggings for lounging around and watching TV…

This post first appeared on Trendwalk.net, a style-meets-business blog by journalist, trends specialist and business analyst, Sandra Halliday