Speedo Makes a Splash With LZR Racer Suit

Swimwear Maker Plans to Adapt Technology for General Consumer Market

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Since February, swimmers wearing Speedo's revolutionary LZR Racer have broken 38 world records, grabbing headline after headline, and the rubbery full-body suit, which was engineered with the help of NASA, is now on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. With the U.S. Olympic trials beginning Sunday, the buzz has become a roar as swimmers contemplate paying fines to rival sponsors in order to compete in the futuristic suit. (Nike has said that seven of its athletes are welcome to wear the suit at the trials in order to satisfy their curiosity and compete without distractions.)
Michael Phelps
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Because of the spotlight on the Beijing Olympics and the popularity of swimming phenom Michael Phelps, Speedo was for the first time contemplating a broader advertising campaign to promote the brand and Olympic-branded products.


It all adds up to not just a publicity bonanza for the swimsuit maker Speedo, but a new consumer-marketing opportunity. Traditionally, Speedo has taken a sports-marketing approach with sponsorships of star athletes and teams to generate buzz around its products. That strategy has helped the brand control more than half of the total competitive-swimwear market in the U.S. as of the beginning of 2008.

Looking beyond athletes
But now that the mainstream press has latched onto the high-tech LZR suit, it's giving the brand unprecedented exposure outside of the swimming community, where reports of technological advances have largely been confined in the past. And that, said Craig Brommers, VP-marketing at Speedo, is giving the brand license to focus more heavily on consumer marketing.

The idea is to adapt the technology to consumer styles appropriate for swimming laps or going to the beach. The LZR Racer's water-repellent features, for example, could be parlayed into quick-drying swim trunks for men, while the core stabilizer might translate into tummy-toning fashions for women.

"The brand halo creates a desire for Speedo technologies that are relevant to a general consumer," Mr. Brommers said. "This definitely gives us permission to be more aggressive with the consumer-marketing piece and to broaden our thinking beyond sports marketing."

The hype generated by the LZR Racer, which was introduced in February, is already giving the brand a significant boost. Speedo has increased its market share to a commanding 61% of the competitive-swimwear market in the U.S., according to research firm SportsOneSource. Annual retail sales in the U.S. are about $500 million and roughly $1.3 billion worldwide, according to Speedo.

"The suit itself was such a revolution in technology, but the media hype has far exceeded our expectations, and the interest from the general consumer has really exceeded our expectations," Mr. Brommers said.

Synchronized with Olympics
But while the response has been unprecedented, it wasn't completely unexpected. Because of the spotlight on the Beijing Olympics and the popularity of swimming phenom Michael Phelps, Speedo was for the first time contemplating a broader advertising campaign to promote the brand and Olympic-branded products. "As late as fall of 2007, we were very much in discussion about ... a print and outdoor campaign," Mr. Brommers said. "But we decided that the PR and free media generated from the LZR Racer would be enough. ... In retrospect, we made the right decision."

Speedo's consumer PR agency is French West Vaughn, New York, and its sports-marketing agency is Brener Zwikel & Associates, Los Angeles. Some web advertising and direct-to-consumer pieces focused on the Olympics are still being deployed.
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