Aug 11, 2018

Brand Story: Onitsuka Tiger

Written by Avantgarde
Reading time: 4 mins

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The Onitsuka Tiger, one of the oldest footwear company has an interesting history dating back to 1949 when Kihachiro Onitsuka, a former military officer, created Onitsuka Co Ltd. with a vision for betterment and raising hopes of post-war youth’s self-esteem through athletics. His motto “A sound mind in a sound body” was and continues to be the essence of the company.

Their strategy for growth was simple and systematic with the first step focused towards specialization in one category, further moving on to expand into new categories and then finally increasing the product range and distribution networks.

Onitsuka Tiger, which is now a 4.2 billion-dollar footwear company is said to have started out of Kihachiro Onitsuka’s living room in Kobe, Japan with its first product being a basketball shoe resembling a straw sandal. The company has come a long way since and taken inspiration from the most unexpected sources to come up with some of the most innovative and effective solutions to provide comfort and support to sports-persons.

Be it the basketball shoe ‘OK basketball’ introduced in 1951 with suction cup soles which were inspired by an octopus’ tentacle stuck to the bottom of the bowl of a Japanese salad or the ‘Magic Runner’ shoes in 1959 which were inspired by the air-cooling system of the motorcycles thereby providing solution to the most common problem suffered by runners – blisters, Onitsuka Tiger has been an innovator and trend setter for centuries to come.

However, it was the Olympic games of the 1960’s that shaped the success of Onitsuka Tiger. The distinctive crossed stripes (also known as the ASICS stripes) which are now the trademark of the brand were introduced in 1966 during the pre-Olympic trials and were worn by athletes at the Mexico Olympic Games 1968. LIMBER (now known as MEXICO 66) was the first model to feature ASICS stripes. Furthermore, the Japanese team wore these shoes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and in 1976, Finnish runner Lasse Viren won 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the Montreal Olympic Games while wearing Onitsuka Tigers. This strong association of the brand to famous athletes and their success along with its unique style gave the brand the much needed recognition and positive image.

In 1977, Onitsuka Tiger merged with two other companies – GTO, a sports manufacturer and JELENK, a knitwear manufacturer to create ASICS. ASICS stands for Anima Sana In Corpore Sano which means ‘A sound mind in a sound body’ thereby carrying forward the essence of the company. Under the ASICS brand, new technologies and features have been created and introduced to the market as of 1972. This was to fully support any athletes in their endeavour to perform to the highest of their ability in competition and training.

Today, ASICS enjoys a strong market standing and caters to retailers all around the globe with a huge collection of comfortable and stylish sports footwear with unique contemporary designs.

The brand Onitsuka Tiger was reintroduced in 2002 with a new positioning as a fashion lifestyle brand. It aimed to revisit and maintain the many years of brand heritage with its first campaign “Born of Sport, Made of Japan”. As a part of the strategy the original Onitsuka Tiger shoes - MEXICO 66, CALIFORNIA 78 and NIPON MADE were remodelled and the number of shoe styles and colours were increased along with radically expanded distribution toward fashion and higher-end retail outlets.

Print ads in men’s and women’s lifestyle, fashion and music magazines, online ads, point of purchase elements, social marketing, branding and promotions through music and art events and festivals and other grassroots promotions were undertaken to re-establish the brand.

Onitsuka Tiger has produced some very thoughtful, detailed and memorable campaigns to support its collections. To name a few are ‘Craft of Movement’, ‘Calm in modern rush’, ‘My town my Tracks’, ‘Found in Translation’ campaigns and each have received tremendous customer response and appreciation steering Onitsuka Tiger ahead of its competition once again.

Another brand marketing effort by the company worth mentioning was as a part of their sponsorship of the Sydney Bicycle Film Festival where Onitsuka Tiger was made a key engagement point at each of the 10 events of the four-day festival. For this purpose, Facebook places feature was used and each venue was made “Onitsuka Tiger Check-In Point”. People were then asked to check-in on facebook at any three of the event locations and answer a question on the Onitsuka Tiger Facebook Page for a chance to win a custom bike as well as Onitsuka Tiger gear. The campaign was a huge hit and saw huge customer participation.

These creative marketing efforts and clearly laid down growth strategies of the company have directly contributed to its growth and success.

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