Mezamashii memories: The story behind Mizuno’s Effie Award-winning campaign
On the eve of the Effie Awards Gala in New York, the Mizuno brand team members sat in a conference room at McKinney to talk down memory lane. The work they did in 2012 on the ongoing Mezamashii Run Project won five Effie Awards last night, and Mizuno was ranked by the 2013 North America Effie Effectiveness Index the most effective brand. But the day before the team recalled, with many smiles, the campaign’s initial challenges and big wins.
Taking a few risks
“Mizuno knew they had to do something different, that something had to change,” explained Creative Technologist Josh Souter. “They were at this great pivotal moment and willing to take a few risks.”
Mizuno believed in the power behind the campaign idea from the start. Because runners tend to stick to one brand of running shoe for years, even decades, we had to force them to try a different brand with the offer of a free pair. Mizuno also believed in the quality of their product and the determination of their fans. The existing community of Mizuno loyalists was fierce and loud, sharing regularly on social media that their shoes are better. But giving away thousands of shoes to runners who you hope will say good things on their blogs and in their tweets was, definitely, a risk. Mizuno was initially hesitant to give McKinney the go-ahead.
The team assigned to the project second-guessed itself a few times, too. Account Director Mark Belot recalled the night before the team was scheduled to present McKinney’s first iteration of the campaign. “At that time the idea was to spend almost the entire budget on free shoes. We really debated whether or not to go through with presenting it.” Josh concurred: “I remember thinking, if it’s not questioned by the client it’ll be questioned internally because it was totally new and not in our wheelhouse.” They brought it to Mizuno because, as Mark shared, “if we didn’t do this and someone else did, we’d be kicking ourselves.”
Then there was the issue of the logistics behind distributing thousands of free pairs of shoes. Group Strategy Director Becky Minervino remembered asking, “Would we do it in the retail stores? Would we do it online? Use a 1-800 number? How do we coordinate with operations people, the distribution people, the warehouse people, the e-commerce people, etc.?” It was mindboggling, but the team believed it was not just doable but the best way to get passionate runners to try a different running shoe.
Pitching it again
“We had to pitch the idea three times before it was approved,” remembered Will Dean, associate creative director. “Each time we did, Mizuno came back with some really good questions that made us tweak the idea and come back stronger.” For example, how would we determine which 600 runners would get the first Mezamashii Run Project invitations?
Sampling is pretty commonplace in the category, but running shoe companies are normally giving products to Olympic-caliber, nationally recognized, sponsored runners. While reading online running shoe forums, the McKinney brand team learned about the power of bragging rights. “Getting ‘spiffed,’ or getting a free product, is a big deal. There was clearly a bit of jealousy when a high-caliber runner is spiffed, and we wanted to tap into it,” explained Becky. But we wanted to target influential runners, “not necessarily the fastest or the most well-known, but simply those runners who other runners listen to,” said Mark.
How do you find 600 of these people? We found them in part with the help of Mizuno’s own run birds. Yes, run birds.
“We built out the list of runners who would initially be invited to the project with the help of run birds, professionals in their early 20s who ran in college, who are excited to work for Mizuno, and who are paid to talk about running all day to folks at specialty running shoe stores,” explains Becky. “They knew who to give the first pairs of free shoes to, who would make the most noise online.”
Making it special
“Now we had to figure out how to make it stand out,” remembered Mark. Know what’s special in these email, text and Facebook message times? Personalized wedding invitations that you still receive in the mail. So the team decided to start a social media-driven campaign with a direct mail piece.
This decision created a new challenge: Even though the team knew where to find the first round of invited runners online, they did not know where the runners lived. “So we contacted them through email, their blogs or their Twitter handles and simply asked them for their mailing address,” remembered Mark. “Many runners gave it to us blind, without knowing what we were sending.” Will Dean then wrote each address on each envelope by hand — on all 600 invitations to the Mezamashii Run Project.
He and Josh created the look of the campaign with photos showing what runners see when on a Mezamashii (Japanese for brilliant) run, such as pine tree canopies and wide open paths. “The photos make you feel like it’s a raw running thing,” said Will, “which is exactly what a Mezamashii run is. We then paired the images with a logo I made with Josh using the Japanese character for running.” Mizuno loved it.
And the influential runners targeted with the first round of invitations loved the shoes. The reactions on social media started small: a tweet here with a picture of the invitation, a blog post there about a first run in a free pair of Mizunos. And then, a few weeks later, “it just went off,” says Mark.
The campaign was structured to extend the excitement generated by the first invitees by opening participation to the general running public. “We gave away something like 100 pairs of shoes a week during the second part of the campaign to those who applied to the Mezamashii Run Project online,” explains Josh. And the momentum hasn’t slowed down yet. At the latest sales meeting just a few weeks ago, the run birds were asking, “What’s next for Mezamashii?”
Learning from the process
Working with smaller clients means working with smaller budgets. If you’re in “big idea” mode, this can be disheartening. Had the team had more resources available, they may not have been challenged to consider a campaign with so many unconventional and effective components.
Find the unforeseen assets.
Deeply understanding what you have going for you and what you have working against you is a smart component of any client/agency relationship. “By working closely with Mizuno and their extended team, who we also saw as our clients, we came to conclusions that we might not otherwise have identified,” said Becky.
Be ready to work the long haul.
Creating more than traditional advertising means working with a range of people. McKinney’s team sought out and cultivated close relationships with the general manager, the head of sales, the district sales managers and their team, the product design folks, and customer care and operations employees. “This extended web — far beyond what the staffing plan dictated — gave us insights into the assets and helped us better anticipate some of the struggles Mizuno may have in getting others on board with the project,” said Becky. “It ultimately gave us credibility to help them solve problems.”
It’s human nature to think about why something can’t happen. Mizuno had the patience to listen critically to the case multiple times and the resilience to help McKinney make the Mezamashii Run Project better. There is no “I” in “team,” but there’s a “we” in “awesome.”
Read a summary of the official Effie case here and watch a case study video on our website here. The Mezamashii Run Project continues in 2013 with, most recently, a partnership with MapMyRun.