This week’s blog post is an in-depth guide to athleisure marketing. Specifically, I go over subjects like the athleisure market, neuromarketing strategies used by athleisure brands, neuroscience, sports psychology and how this all leads to beautiful sports fashion that we wear.
This post is the ultimate athleisure marketing guide meant to broaden our knowledge of how big of an industry this is and how we have gotten so deeply immersed in fitness culture. From topics like conspicuous consumption, the halo effect and influencer psychology, this is a relevant conversation that goes beyond our love of leggings.
How did Gym Shark grow into an athleisure giant? Can facial coding or eye tracking reveal any meaningful insights to brands like Under Armour about our psychology? How does the concept of an inner champion play into themes we see in fitness advertisements?
Let us start this post by defining athleisure fashion.
What is athleisure fashion?
Athleisure is a hybrid between sportswear and everyday clothes. It is about combining fitness, comfort and style.
Wearing athleisure is less about the exterior and how you look and more about how to feel your best with an emphasis on comfort.
Origin of athleisure
“Athleisure grew out of the dynamic use of the yoga pant. Although yoga pants were designed for the gym, their comfort and simple look led women to start wearing them in casual and formal settings (Jahn, 2022) .”
Check out my Ultimate Guide to Athleisure fashion for information on athleisure history, styling tips, trends and 8 classy looks to get inspired from.
What types of clothing does it consist of?
Athleisure consists of leggings, tights, sweatpants, sports bras,crop tops, shirts, sneakers, hoodies, jackets, caps and socks.
“Additions to the athleisure lineup include leggings, tights, sweatpants, sneakers, hoodies, and jackets. Improved textiles have allowed sportswear to become more versatile, comfortable, and fashionable (Jahn, 2022).”
Make sure to also check out my latest blog post on the 11 athleisure trends to look out for this spring! They include flared pants, bold details, activewear dresses and loungewear! Also included are celebrity outfits to draw inspiration from as well as styling tips.
Top Brands include:
- Hanes Brands, Inc.
- Adidas AG
- Under Armour, Inc.
- EILEEN FISHER
- Patagonia, Inc.
- Wear Pact, LLC
- Lululemon Athletica
- Gym Shark
How much is the athleisure market worth?
It was valued at $359.86 billion USD in 2021.
How big is the athleisure market expected to grow?
It is expected to reach $842.07 billion USD in 2030.
- Phone applications
- Neuromarketing technologies
- Built-in technologies
- Eco-friendly materials
- Minimal waste
- Comfort and inclusion of minorities (ie: disability-friendly, female empowerment, plus-sized, elderly-friendly).
- Use of 3D technology
- Artifical intelligence
- Social commerce
Gym Shark Case Study: How they used marketing to grow their brand
Gym shark was founded in 2012 and is one of the biggest athleisure brands in the world with over £100m in sales in the year 2018.
“In 2016, it was named as the fastest growing retailer in the UK, going on to generate sales of over £100m in 2018. Last year, founder Ben Francis was also named in Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, acknowledgement of the brand’s impressive rise in the fitness and apparel industry (Gilliland,2019).”
Here are four marketing tactics that they used to boost this massive growth:
1) They targetted a niche marketing
In 2012, Ben Francis noticed that there existed two extremes with athleisure fitness and by bridging that gap, he found and targetted his niche audience. He noticed that athleisure fashion were mainly targeting older bodybuilders or were sold as high-end luxury items, there was no middle ground.
“Brands were either selling baggy body-building gear targeted towards older consumers, or high-end and expensive fitness clothes that were designed to be purely functional rather than fashionable (Gilliland,2019).”
Francis’ niche audience is young fitness lovers who want to look fashionable in athleisure.
“Gymshark started with the aim of creating fitness gear for this market – one that appears just as concerned with looking good at the gym as on a night out (Gilliland,2019).”
2) Use of fitness influencers as brand ambassadors
Francis’ second marketing strategy was the use of fitness influencers as brand ambassadors.
“This strategy proved to be effective, with the influencers’ involvement immediately having a big affect on sales. From this, Gymshark decided to sponsor 18 influencers, who had a combined following of over 20 million people in markets including the US (Gilliland,2019).”
Why was this strategy so effective? Brand ambassadors would eventually create natural advocacy and love for the clothes.
“This strategy eventually turned many influencers into brand ambassadors (now referred to as ‘Gymshark athletes’), creating natural advocacy and genuine affinity for the clothes (Gilliland,2019).”
3) Fusing online and offline presence through fitness expos
Gym Shark’s third succesful marketing tactic was the use of fitness expos. Gym shark lovers and fans could meet their fitness influencers in these events.
“It has mainly achieved this through its Gymshark meet-ups and ‘expos’ – events where fans are able to meet their favourite fitness influencers (Gilliland,2019).”
4) Gym Shark has created and online community of users who create content
Their final marketing strategy was to create an online community of users who create content.
“The brand often creates work-out videos on its YouTube channel for audiences to replicate or follow. In turn, it will post user-generated content from those that do, which in turn helps to motivate others (Gilliland,2019).”
Why is athleisure becoming increasingly popular?
Athleisure is becoming increasingly popular because fitness, comfort and lifestyle are becoming more merged. As consumers, we are also wearing more casual clothing and seeking more comfort than ever. Thanks to social media, we have also developed more fitness habits and we therefore require having more performance athleisure.
“Athleisure is a popular category because it taps into several broad trends, including a global shift toward consumers wearing more casual clothing, consumers seeking comfortable clothing, and health-conscious consumers engaging in more athletic activities and requiring performance clothing for these activities (Grand View Research, 2022).”
Athleisure also adds style to the wardrobe of a fit person and also acts as a status symbol for those who can afford the luxury of a healthy lifestyle.
“Wellness has evolved from a siloed lifestyle choice to a new status symbol and an expression of personal values that spans across all sectors – from luxury travel to prestige beautyand high-end fitness (Luxe Design, 2022).”
Psychology behind Athleisure Design
Concept #1: Enclothed Cognition
According to the framework called enclothed cognition, clothes can have an impact on our internal emotional states.
“Can clothing influence behavior? This is the premise of a theoretical framework called Enclothed Cognition: ‘the systematic influence that clothes have on the wearer’s psychological processes’ (Wintermeier,2022).”
This theory supports the idea that just wearing athleisure or sports clothes can mentally prepare us to go train and actually contribute to that process.
“But when we get dressed to exercise, there’s something more to putting on an outfit — it’s the physical and psychological aspect of suiting up for our best shot (Shatzman, 2022).”
Lauren Gutherie, director of merchandising at old navy women’s active provides the perspective that athletes’ performance can greatly become fueled by the clothes that they wear.
“Fashion can provide an incredible competitive advantage for athletes. When you feel like your best self, you will inevitably elevate your game. (Ghuman, 2021).”
Why is this the case? It comes down to details, think about your favorite gym outfit or leggings. Specifically, try to remember if the sensation of the fabric is something you feel comfortable in, what about the design, color and pockets?
“It’s also the cut, color, how it hugs your body, a simple perk like a key pocket in just the right place, and other subtle factors that get you pumped up to break a sweat (Ghuman, 2021).”
Obviously functionality is a key component of product design.
“You should not be fighting with your garments because you have to fight with the elements; you should be free and mobile. That whole sense of liberty goes through everything we do. As a brand we want our athletes to go out and forget about themselves and their clothing so they can win a race or focus on nature (Ghuman, 2021).”
Concept #2: Conspicuous Consumption
Conspicuous consumption is the buying of products or goods to show off one’s socioeconomic status. This behavior is typically associated with the wealthy and has often been used to explain the behavior of luxury shoppers.
Street style trend: Adidas Stan Smith
“Take Adidas’ Stan Smith. Originally a tennis shoe in 1955 and then marketed to the masses over the course of the years, the Stan Smith today is more of a fashion item than a sports shoe (Wintermeier, 2022).”
“The streetwear trend is a great symbol of sports fashion: Comfortable tracksuits, sneakers, and parkas are taken from urban culture and worn every day (Wintermeier, 2022).”
Fashion remains largely symbolic and about conveying status, think about the importance most people place on logos.
“Fashion is always going to be correlated to peacocking behavior, and activewear is no exception. It becomes a fashion statement as soon as people see others doing it. Think of the big activewear brands out there – logos have become more important than the products sold (Wintermeier,2022).”
Wearing activewear plays into the halo effect (our attribution of positive character traits to attractive people). Wearing athleisure can therefore elevate your social status.
“Wearing activewear is like the Halo Effect. Where more ‘beautiful’ people are privy to positive traits (based on the perspective of others), individuals who wear activewear may also be seen as to excel in other areas of their life (Wintermeier,2022).”
The purchasing of athleisure can also be explained as an act of demonstrative consumption (a male dating strategy of demonstrating resourcefulness through expensive purchases).
“There is even such a term as “demonstrative consumption”, describing the men’s unconscious desire to stand out in front of the opposite sex through expensive (or seeming to be such) demonstrative purchases (Wintermeier,2022). “
Champions are mentally tough, bold, confident and focussed. Chanelling our inner champion instead of our inner critic is effective at driving performance and our purchase of performance-enhancing athleisure.
“Whether you’re running a marathon or just putting in a few miles on the treadmill, the right gear can make you feel like a champion. And it’s not just about the fabric technology, which has made amazing advancements in the last few years. It’s also the cut, color, how it hugs your body, a simple perk like a key pocket in just the right place, and other subtle factors that get you pumped up to break a sweat (Chi&Ganak,2021).”
What emotions do brands like Nike elicit in their social media posts or ads?
“Ultimately, the goal is to create activewear that captures the physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs of the people who wear it, so that they can get the most from each workout every time they put it on (Chi&Ganak,2021).”
Trends in Athleisure Design
Eco-friendly material, recycling, sustainability
Under Armour, as you will find out later in this blog post has a large budget allocated to neuroscience, sustainability and research. They have also used these methods to create sustainable designs such as their fiber-shed proof athleisure.
“‘We are committed to holistically addressing sustainability issues such as fiber shedding and have already begun to use our methodology to produce more sustainable products for athletes that feature Under Armour’s signature high-performance attributes,’ said Kyle Blakely, Senior Vice President of Innovation for Under Armour (Under Armor, 2023).”
Athleisure giants Nike and Adidas also follow the trend towards sustainability.
“As well as being empowered to shop more sustainably, Nike hopes customers will also develop eco-conscious awareness more generally through the initiative, with information provided around the benefits of sustainable components compared to conventional materials (Faull,2015).”
“In recent decades, the fashion industry has caused massive environmental pollution due to the rise of fast fashion, defined as less-expensive trendy clothing produced in high volumes . Such destruction equals roughly 17 million tons of textile waste every year, of which only 15% is recycled (Chi & Ganak, 2021) .”
“A recent national survey showed that 75% of U.S. millennials rated sustainability as one of most important factors to consider while purchasing apparel . Statistics indicated that females made up the majority of athleisure consumers and had been the advocates for the athleisure lifestyle (Chi & Ganak, 2021).”
Athleisure trends: Continued
Performance athleisure as elevated casual fashion
Athleisure trends include moving towards performance products that look like every day clothes. Athleisure leader Gym shark is excellent at doing this.
“First, it exemplifies the reverse-athleisure pendulum swing we’re seeing, where instead of making a non-performance piece look sporty, performance products are being made to look like everyday clothes (Hartford,2016).“
Check out Gym Shark‘s new athleisure collection. Notice how their clothing can easily pass for trendy everyday clothes as long as they are correctly styled (paired with accesories, cap, purse and daily wardrobe pieces).
Flared pants are trendy to wear during the Spring of 2023.
“The flare is the most fashion-forward offering in the collection. Lucy executives saw this silhouette being worn at yoga festivals and as a larger women’s wear trend in fashion. (Hartford, 2016).”
Yoga athleisure is trending
Yogawear is in as well, this trend can be worn at the yoga studio and at a cafe.
“The yoga apparel product segment is expected to expand at the fastest growth rate over the forecast period. The rising popularity and benefits of yoga as a mind-body fitness activity is leading to an increase in the number of yoga enthusiasts across the world (Grand View Research, Inc, 2022).”
Appeals to the ‘old brain’
You can notice the language used in athleisure or fitness products advertisements and social media sponsored posts. These companies are advised to target the part of the brain refered to as the old brain. The old brain is the part of the brain responsible for decision making whereas the new brain focusses on thinking and processing rational data.
“The “old brain” is responsible for motives (food, sex, relationship seeking, status), emotions (anger, anxiety, sadness), and behaviours (fight, flight, freeze). On the other hand, our “new brain” is responsible for imagination, planning, over-thinking, rumination, mentalisation, theory of mind, self-monitoring (Trust Therapy, 2020).”
Fitness companies are encouraged to talk to the old brain (this will raise effectiveness of communication of services, products or policies). The old brain also triggers decision making.
The old brain is also responsive to anything pertaining to the self. It is the center of ‘me’ that is not patient or empathetic with anything that does not directly concern it’s wellbeing and survival.
The New Brain
The new brain processes complex processes like the ones outlined above as well as thinking and processing rational data.
The brain consists of two hemispheres, the left side is responsible for language and logic and the right side is responsible for art, music, creativity and inspiration.
The Old brain is sensitive to clear contrast:
- Before & After
- Risky & Safe
- With & Without
- Fast & Slow
3 Ways to Appeal To the Old Brain
- Fitness influencers and anybody in the fitness space need to drop jargon or complicated language as appealing to ones’ desire to get fit requires them to act rather than think.
- Contrast marketing like listing “risky versus safe” exercises allows the old brain to make quick risk-free decisions. If no contrast are made then the old brain delays a decision or makes no decision at all.
- Finally, you want to avoid neutral statements like “we have a qualified friendly team” or “we use the latest equipment”.
What is neuromarketing?
The field of neuromarketing, sometimes known as consumer neuroscience, studies the brain to predict and potentially even manipulate consumer behavior and decision making.
Why should brands use neuromarketing?
Simply put, neuromarketing has required specialized equipment and skills that are beyond the reach of most companies themselves. Furthermore, studies also indicate that data derived from measuring the brain are more accurate than other types of studies.
“Second, a series of academic studies have demonstrated that brain data can predict the future success of products more accurately than can traditional market research tools such as surveys and focus groups (Harrell,2019).”
A 2012 study by Emory University found that measuring the brain’s response to music reliably predicted the popularity of the song.
“For example, in 2012 researchers at Emory found that activity in a specific brain area, measured by fMRI while people were listening to music, significantly correlated with a song’s future popularity as measured by sales data three years later (Harrell,2019).”
The neuroscience data therefore proved to be reliably accurate in predicting consumer behavior.
How can it help businesses grow?
Understand that studying human behavior and reactions to products give brands insights that cannot be gathered via other research methods (maybe the study sample lacks the awareness of their internal states that neurotracking can offer).
“People have flawed recall; they lie when they’re trying to please or are embarrassed; their perceptions can be influenced by how a question is asked. “What comes out of our mouths is not always a perfect rendition of what’s going on in our brains,” Platt says (Harrell,2019).”
People are not rational when it comes to making a purchase and rely on emotions, feelings and intuition. These impulses (feelings and even preferences) are created in the brain, this is why tapping into this data can be quite valuable for companies.
Pepsi Cola Case Study:
“In 2004 researchers at Emory University served Coca-Cola and Pepsi to subjects in an fMRI machine. When the drinks weren’t identified, the researchers noted a consistent neural response. But when subjects could see the brand, their limbic structures (brain areas associated with emotions, memories, and unconscious processing) showed enhanced activity, demonstrating that knowledge of the brand altered how the brain perceived the beverage (Neuroscience.org,2019).”
What are the main methods neuromarketers use to gather their data?
“Brain scanning, which measures neural activity, and physiological tracking, which measures eye movement and other proxies for that activity, are the most common methods of measurement (Harrell,2019).”
What are other methods used by neuromarketers?
1) Facial-expression coding (reading the minute movement of muscles in the face):
Can measure emotional responses; and heart rate, respiration rate, and skin conductivity measure arousal. This technology can capture and identify emotions behind fleeting facial expressions.
2) Psychology-based implicit associations test:
Tests the strength of our unconscious associations between concepts (ie:fat/thin people) and evaluations (ie:good/bad) or stereotypes (ie:athletic/clumsy).
3) Facial coding:
Can read feelings.
Eye tracking can measure attention (via the eyes’ fixation points) and arousal (via pupil dilation).
5) Brain scan:
Measures the strength of a response.
6) Biometric metrics:
Could indicate how emotional they were.
Athleisure brands are making use of fitness apps:
Brands like Nike, Adidas, Under Armour and Gym Shark are creating their own apps (ie: Nike Training Club) or collaborating with fitness apps like My Fitness Pal (a popular food tracking app).
“It’s now beginning to use this segment insight to shape its fitness apps, where people are engaging with the brand entirely differently, as well as look at how an e-commerce element can be woven in (Hanlon,2022).”
Neuroscience helps brands understand people’s motivations, desires, likes and dislikes
People are not rational when it comes to making a purchase, they rely on emotions, feelings and intuition. Neuroscience gives brands access to tracking and measuring these emotional states.
“In fusing market research with neuroscience, Under Armour is hoping to understand peoples’ sources of influence to create advertising that’s more reliable, creative and ultimately effective. Instead of asking why, its marketers want to know how to craft a more nuanced view of what people want from the brand (Faull,2015).”
Under armour using neuroscience to improve products:
Athleisure giant Under Armour allocates a large portion of their marketing budget to deepen their understanding of consumer behavior with their use of neuromarketing science.
“Under Armour has made no secret of its desire to take on market-leader Nike as well as the likes of Apple with the creation of a digital fitness hub. In a bid to better shape the strategy it has turned to neuroscience in order to segment and serve the potential pool of 150 million people using its apps (Faull,2015).”
Under Armour uses techniques like in-depth interviews to truly understand their consumers’ motivations.
“It had already used neuroscience techniques – including in-depth interviews with a cross section of its consumer base – to get a more nuanced understanding of people’s motives for engaging with the brand (Faull,2015).”
Fusing aestheticism with the emotional mindset of the athlete
This ties back into the idea of the champion’s mindset. Brands work toward eliciting emotional responses and tying in the clothes to the desired emotional mindset of the athlete.
“But of course we also want form to serve function, so we strive for balance, knowing that no one piece stands alone and that everything needs to exist in harmony with everything else, including the athlete’s emotional mindset (Shatzman,2022).”
Brands use repetition to become household names
Repetition, repetition, repetition. Brands use the tactic of repeating a message several times in order to place themselves inside the mind of the consumer.
“Repetition in advertising is the process of repeating a message multiple times in order to increase brand awareness and consumer recall. While it may seem like a simple concept, repetition can be an incredibly powerful tool when used correctly.Repetition in advertising is the process of repeating a message multiple times in order to increase brand awareness and consumer recall. While it may seem like a simple concept, repetition can be an incredibly powerful tool when used correctly (Eusebio,2022).“
“But if they did not repeat to us on a regular basis that Nike sneakers were cool, if they were not worn by well-known personalities, if they were not admired, then, the Nike sneakers would not be so cool. Maybe, another brand would be in their place, or maybe, sneakers would not be popular at all.”
Brands listen to athleisure consumers’ voices
Thanks to the growth of social media, brands are in constant communication with their consumers. Staying active and engaged with consumers is another tactic marketers can now use to grow their brands.
“The opinions and needs of weekend warriors and regular people also shape the activewear industry, especially with the rise of social media, which gives everyone a platform for their voices to be heard (Ghuman, 2021).”
“Our audience is very discerning and connected to us, both online and in our local store communities,” says Bali. “We listen to what our customers have to say and act on it. Having a local supply chain enables us to turn around and deliver on what our customer is looking for quickly. (Ghuman, 2021)”
In conclusion, the athleisure market is a profitable market full of trends that is expected to keep growing in the next few decades. Brands that we love grow by understanding neuroscience, using neuromarketing techniques, understanding sports psychology, appealing to the old brain, creating a niche market and listening to consumers’ voices on social media.
I hope that you enjoyed this in-depth guide to athleisure marketing, please let me know what you thought about it in the comments section below!
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