Mezamashii, Japanese for ‘brilliant (marketing strategy)’

The Mezamashii Project, a running shoe giant's clever foray into word-of-mouth social media marketing.

Mezamashii is a Japanese word meaning “brilliant.”

It could also become marketing-ese for “clever and inexpensive social media marketing campaign.”

The Mezamashii Project is running shoe giant Mizuno’s foray into social media marketing by selecting a small group of people, seemingly mostly recreational runners who also happen to blog, tweet and Facebook about running, to promote the Mizuno brand.

It’s a simple yet promising strategy: identify your most vocal customers on social media, then create a hierarchical in-club and allow them to do the rest.

It all starts with a cryptic message sent in the mail. Not an email — old-fashioned, physical snail mail. Inside the envelope there is a basic message which reads:

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Congratulations.
You have been chosen as a founding member of the Mezamashii Project.

In Japanese the word Mezamashii means brilliant.

We are on a quest to deliver more mezamashii – more ecstatic, electric, wind-in-your-heart running.  More brilliant running.

So instead of spending millions of dollars on advertising to talk about our shoes, we’re putting our money where your feet are – by giving you a free pair.

The First rule of the Mezamashii Project: talk about the Mezamashii Project

These founding members are also asked to refer someone “worthy” of a free pair of shoes as well. Also, all those invited are promised early access to new products and invites to exclusive Mizuno events. Some of these founding members have taken this invite and then created a pseudo-contest, where their readers or followers are enticed to prove their worthiness in exchange for this invite (and the free pair of shoes that comes along with it).

It’s a clever campaign, shrouded in vagaries and only presented by a minimal, slickly designed webpage hosted on the Mizunousa.com site. There, members can log in and unlock the mysteries of the campaign — i.e. order a free pair of shoes and find out more about Mizuno marketing events. There is also a one minute video that sums up all of the above by impassioned Mizuno USA employees. The video, of course, maintains the ethereal tone of the campaign, suggesting much but revealing little:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4WT-LRzx4U&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

The campaign is an outgrowth of Mizuno’s 2011 branding initiative for their Wave Rider 15 running shoe called “A Brilliant Run.” In that preliminary campaign Mizuno used Albert Einstein as a character on a website developed especially for the the Wave Rider 15, where Einstein attempted to concoct a formula for the ‘brilliant run” in said shoe, which would be called “Mizuno’s Law.” Leader Enterprises, an American public relations firm, developed the campaign. They are perhaps best known for getting the Livestrong wristband campaign off the ground several years ago. The initial “A Brilliant Run” campaign incorporated video and urged consumers to watch the Einstein character solve “Mizuno’s Law”. In turn, consumers were able to win Mizuno products as prizes.

Using elitism to market to the non-elite

But with this new marketing strategy Mizuno have adopted a low risk and low investment approach to gain credibility by leveraging the clout of influencers in the running community.

If Mizuno’s approach seems familiar it’s because it’s the same tract that many social media services initially took in order to generate buzz and desire for access to their product. Gmail, Facebook and, more recently, Pinterest employed exclusivity models in order to generate demand for their products. In the initial stages, these services were closed to the outside world, save the lucky and well connect few that would then feel a sense of importance in being included and do much of the marketing for the service themselves. The only difference with the Mezamashii Project, of course, is that Mizuno probably won’t end up sending a free pair of running shoes to everyone else in the end.

Thinking outside of the (shoe) box

Mizuno’s use of blogger outreach in order to gain earned media (i.e. non-paid publicity) is a departure from the conventions of running shoe marketing techniques. Mizuno, of course, still caters to elites, sponsoring a wide variety of track & field and elite distance runners around the world in order to make their products visible. But targeting average recreational runners with surprisingly wide social media reach in exchange for a pair of sneakers is perhaps something new in the running world. Mizuno is indeed elevating how aggressively and creatively the shoe industry is marketing to hobbyist runners with it’s gambit to trade a pair of free shoes for what amounts to nearly free advertising across various social media channels. Perhaps then, Mizuno’s strategy of treating a chosen few recreational runners (who just happen to have some form of social media traction) as if they too are elite runners may prove to be a new model for spreading the word about what to put on your feet.

This is no doubt a sign of things to come in a market that has become incredibly competitive and very profitable for sports apparel brands at a time when running seems to be hitting it’s popularity apex.

Note: the word mezameshii is not to be confused with mizumushi, which is Japanese for athlete’s foot.