Fila's Makeover Aimed At China's High Society

Ads By BBH Are First Created for Sportswear Brand Just for Mainland

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SHANGHAI ( -- Many affluent Chinese are getting their first look at Fila this month.

The brand has been available in the mainland for years but with so little marketing support and retail distribution, it was largely unknown.

This month, Fila has been relaunched with the first ads created specifically for the mainland's fast-growing sportswear market. The brand is priced for the growing number of rich Chinese in their 30s and 40s who view sports as a form of enjoyment and business networking -- an afternoon socializing on a private golf course rather than a sweaty hour of shooting hoops on a public basketball court.

The relaunch is financed by Belle International Holdings, which acquired the trademark rights for the shoes and apparel brand in China in September 2007. The Hong Kong-listed company appointed Bartle Bogle Hegarty four months ago to develop the brand's image and a positioning strategy and a print, digital and instore in-store marketing campaign. Belle plans to have 150 stores selling Fila in China by the end of next year, up from about 85 now.

Post-Olympic timing avoided media clutter
The new campaign debuted in the September issue of local fashion and lifestyle magazines and will run at least three months. Each month, ads will feature clothes from Fila's fall/winter line designed for different sports, such as tennis, yoga, golf and skiing.

The campaign strategy departs from sports marketing seen in China in the months leading up to the Olympic Games, which were "crowded with big-name athletes pounding home big messages," said Chiew Ling Tan, an associate account director at Bartle Bogle, Shanghai. Six print ads features trendy Asian and Caucasian models dressed in Fila clothes in group settings instead of sports stars.

Fila wants to benefit from a renewed interest in sports stemming from the games, but it didn't want to combat the media clutter during the Olympics.

"All of the noise before and during the games was about Nike and Adidas, the biggest sponsors of the games and Olympic teams. We wouldn't have been able to survive around the other two sports brands," Ms. Tan added. "We don't have a clear stand in this market and we want to resonate with consumers."
Competition is particularly stiff in China's sportswear market. Besides Adidas and Nike, the country has two strong domestic players, Li Ning Co. and Anta Group. Li Ning, named after China's first sports celebrity, a gymnast who won gold medals in the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, is stronger in apparel, while Anta is the top performer in sports shoes.

Competition from sportswear and luxury brands
Fila is also competing against other upscale niche international brands such as Puma, which has also intensified its sales, marketing and distribution in China this year. With polo shirts priced at just more than $100, Fila also rivals sportswear marketed by luxury brands such as Prada and Ralph Lauren.

Fila has "valuable heritage and design and the Chinese market is big, there is room for lots of brands," said P.T. Black, a partner at Jigsaw, a youth-trend consultancy in Shanghai.

"But the market it tough. It's not as easy as it was a few years ago when people were really open to education about brands," he said. "Now the question is becoming, why should I bother learning about you? That is a challenge the creative has to consider."

Belle has structured its marketing for Fila around a "Society of Sports" platform. The word "society" evokes the shared enjoyment of sports with friends, a distinct departure from the fierce, competitive messages of other athletic brands.

It also hints at the elite nature of Fila, an Italian brand with nearly 100 years of history. Each ad even features a crest visual, a nod to the brand's European heritage. The crest positions Fila as apparel to be worn as a badge of pride and was designed to appeal to Fila's target demographic, affluent consumers aged 25- to 45-years-old, but particularly those in their mid-30s and older.

"Fila is a hybrid of athletic wear and high fashion," said Shanghai-based Joy Cai, sports-marketing manager for Fila in China. "These ads are about performing elegantly. They are refined, but visually striking at the same time."

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