Speedo Looks to Make a Splash With Aqua Fitness Push

Brand Known for Swimwear Is Pushing Shoes, Weights and Underwater Exercise Programs

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Speedo ads will soon look a lot more like Under Armour and Nike spots -- with some water added.

The brand, which is synonymous with performance swimwear, is diving headfirst into so-called aqua fitness, which includes activities like underwater cycling, yoga and weightlifting. The initiative, called Speedo Fit, will be backed by the brand's largest campaign in many years. Ads star Olympic swimmers and Speedo endorsers Ryan Lochte, Missy Franklin, Natalie Coughlin, Nathan Adrian and Cullen Jones.

The goal is to generate demand for Speedo's growing line of apparel and equipment that goes beyond swimsuits. Products include the "upswell shoe" which is footwear meant to be used underwater and on land, as well as a "clutch paddle" geared for underwater strength training. The Speedo Fit program includes more than 70 how-to training videos posted on Speedo's website. Activities shown include 'shoulder figure 8's," which involves making figure eight motions with the Speedo clutch paddles underwater. The program was created in partnership with Exos, a company that specializes in training, nutrition, and physical therapy programs.

TV ads and online videos include footage of the Olympic swimmers working out underwater. A voiceover states, "It's not just about swimming, it's a whole new kind of workout."

The new positioning seeks to capitalize on the growing popularity of water fitness. More than 26 million people participated in swimming for fitness at least once in 2015, an increase of 4% from the previous year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.

"Water-based exercise is definitely on the move up," said Matt Powell, a sports industry analyst for NPD Group. The trend in part is being driven by baby boomers who are seeking more low-impact exercise, as they give up higher impact activities like running, he said.

Specialized studios are even popping up, like one called Acqua in New York City's Tribeca neighborhood called Aqua that specializes in aqua cycling, which is like an underwater spinning class.

While Speedo is known as a top-notch swimming brand, the brand observed that there was growth in all forms of aquatic exercise "that we just weren't really getting our teeth into," said Mike Kelly, who oversaw the campaign as executive VP of the PVH Marketing Group. The group is the in-house agency for apparel company PVH, whose brands include Speedo, Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Water fitness is no longer just about swimming laps or "the old lady down in [Boca Raton, Fla.] with a little flower cap and some kind of a noodle in the pool," Mr. Kelly said.

The ads apply the same aggressive attitude commonly seen in marketing for Under Armour and Nike. And in a way, Speedo is seeking to take those brands on by luring athletes into the pool, where the swimming brand has more of a home court advantage. "Now we are definitely positioning ourselves as an athletic brand, not just a swimming-for-time brand -- but looking at the whole of athletics," Mr. Kelly said.

By launching the campaign now, Speedo is taking advantage of a new United States Olympic Committee rule taking effect this year that allows non-Olympic sponsors to run ads starring Olympic athletes during the games. NIke is a USOC sponsor, but Speedo is not. To qualify, non-sponsors must run their marketing continuously starting no later than March 27. Speedo began running point-of-sale ads in March to beat that deadline, Mr. Kelly said.

Digital ads will begin running this week. TV ads will begin in July and run in August. The Summer Olympics in Brazil run from Aug. 5 to Aug. 21. Mr. Kelly said Speedo's TV ads will run in the period during the Opening Ceremonies through the swimming events. He was not able to confirm if the ads would run on NBC, which is broadcasting the games. Negotiations on media buys are still underway, he said.

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