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American runners who hear about adidas’ “Runbase” in Japan might soon be clamoring for one in the United States. Located a few blocks from Tokyo’s most popular running route, around the Imperial Palace, this runner’s center offers showers and lockers for rent, a store that sells running shoes and apparel, and staff to provide training advice and stock the rentals.

For adidas, Japan is not only a unique market but also one of the top-five global markets for the athletic apparel firm. Japanese consumers appreciate high-end style and technological innovation, which also makes it a valuable marketing testing ground. The company even maintains an adidas Creation Center Tokyo—a group that designs and markets products specifically for Japanese customers.

The geography and housing standards in Japan make it difficult for consumers to buy and stock large items; they therefore are willing to pay more for smaller items, which they in turn expect to have extra details or added innovation. For example, in a partnership with the designer Hitoshi Mimura, known for working with Olympians, adidas is offering a great looking $180 pair of running shoes.

In addition to the Runbase, adidas’ shoe rental program offers another innovation for this country’s running market. The company allowed consumers to try out its new AdiZero running shoe for several days and return it if unsatisfied. But few customers were dissatisfied, and the promotion increased sales by 17 percent.

Furthermore, Japan makes an excellent test market for strategies such as these, because of its generally open and trusting culture. But once they succeeded in Japan, adidas started looking at ways to expand these programs to the United States and Europe. In the meantime, adidas decided to promote its line of ClimaCool apparel during an intensive heat wave in Japan. Then it used Japanese consumers’ love of graphic novels and comics to help promote Japan’s soccer team participation in the World Cup in 2010.

Discussion Questions

  1. Are innovations such as rental running shoes likely to catch on as well in Western markets as they have in Japan?
  2. Should adidas use a localized or a global advertising strategy for these innovations?

source: Anita Chang Beattie, “adidas Navigates Japanese Market with Creative Flair,” Advertising Age, March 26, 2012.