Indian women, the growing bait for sports brands

Indian sportswomen are emerging as winners and this has opened up a growing market for Nike, Puma, Reebok and Adidas

“The last 100m has always been my strength,” said Hima Das in an interview with LiveMint. “I am a little slow off the blocks. So the 400m suits me better as it gives me the time to start slowly and then accelerate, which is not possible in 100m, 200m.”

2018 was the year of Indian sportswomen. Mithali Raj drives the Indian women cricket team to the finals, Dutee Chand wins two silver medals in Jakarta, P.V. Sindhu, becomes the first Indian to win the World Tour Finals and then M.C. Mary Kom, the boxing legend from Manipur wins her sixth world championship, the most by any woman in the world. The list is big and encouraging covered well by Pradip Kumar Shah for LiveMint.

Indian women won 28 medals out of 66 and 69 at the Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games, respectively.

In this growing list of successful Indian sportswomen, young athlete Hima Das stands tall. The Assamese teenager clocked 50.79 seconds, her personal best in the 400m final at the Asian Games in Jakarta in August, winning the silver medal. She won one gold and two silver medals at the Asian Games. The winning streak of Hima started in the IAAF World U20 Championships in Tampere, Finland where she created history by winning India’s first gold medal at a global track event. She crossed the finish line in 51.46 seconds for the 400m event.

From playing football in her father’s paddy fields, Hima is now India’s hope for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Adidas ropes in Hima Das

Meanwhile, she has become the darling for Indian brands. Last year after her Jakarta win, the Indian arm of the German sports brand Adidas announced that Hima is its new brand ambassador. According to the brand Hima will soon be appearing in an advertising campaign aimed at inspiring young athletes in the country. “We will also be leveraging her presence in all our global campaigns across mediums which should be launched by the end of the year,” added Sean Van Wyk, senior marketing director, Adidas India.

Adidas is yet to launch an advertising campaign featuring Hima. But my wild guess is a campaign similar to “She Breaks Barriers”. Launched on International Women’s Day the campaign features a set of videos featuring four international athletes. The goal of the series is to showcase how these individuals overcame challenges and now hope to show young women they deserve as much of a platform as men get.

Adidas want’s to support India’s youth and build stronger sporting spirit and ambition in them.

Puma ropes in Mary Kom and Dutee Chand

The 36-year-old boxer from Manipur, Mary Kom created history by becoming the first woman to win 6 World Championships, achieving this feat at the 10th AIBA Women's World Boxing Championships.

A mother of three sons and inspiration to men and women has been roped in by another German sportswear brand Puma. Later Puma also signed a two year deal with Dutee Chand. 23-year-old Dutee is the third Indian woman ever to qualify for the women’s 100m at the Summer Olympics. She is also the first Indian athlete to win gold in the 100m event, clocking at 11.32 seconds, at the World University Games in Naples.

Puma has already aired its first campaign Propah Lady which has both Mary and Dutee along with Bollywood actor Sara Ali Khan and transgender model Anjali Lama. According to the brand the campaign counters the conventional idea of what makes women proper, and redefines it. “It celebrates the shift from women being told what to do, to them writing their own rules.”

Who is a Propah Lady -

“She who makes a sandwich, she who eats a sandwich, and she who eats 10 sandwiches? “She who does pushups and she who wears pushups. She who grinds, she who goes on and on.”

Propah is defined as cool/perfect. Conceptualised by Digitas, the video in a fun way has challenged the stereotypes.

However, I wonder what is Sara Ali Khan doing in the campaign. Puma says she resonates with young Indian women for being outspoken, authentic and bold. Okay, I trust you Puma, maybe we still need the Bollywood stamp.

Digital extension to the Propah Lady

In addition to the video, the website invites you to meet the Propah Lady. Each of them is representing a collection of Puma that one can check out and fancy buying it. And then you have GIFs and Propah Artworks if you fancy them to download for free.

The Propah Lady website section allows you to explore and buy the collections. Can it be more? I am aware of Mary Kom and Dutee Chand but I don’t know who is Anjali Lama? As an audience/consumer how do I get more information. 

Also, why are the shopping looks minus the brand ambassadors? The brand could have done a photoshoot for the products that it wants people to buy for this campaign. Looks like the brand just wanted to focus on the ambassadors and the video. It’s a shame when brands treat the website as a stepchild.

Reebok launches #SheGotRee with Katrina

“Girl you got Ree, She got Ree..” why not when it is Reebok’s latest campaign #SheGotRee. A subsidiary of Adidas, Reebok is featuring Bollywood celeb Katrina Kaif. According to the brand, the campaign celebrates fitness and enjoy being fit no matter where they are. 

Reebok India hopes to inspire women to find their very own expression of fitness. However, all I get is a fit Katrina, fit foreign models having fun and Ree. Maybe Indian women want international models to inspire them to choose fitness. Is it true women? Reebok India is saying so.

For years now Reebok has focused on Bollywood to attract its target audience. The brand had a long association with Kangana Ranaut when she was the talk of the town. The recent association with Katrina is puzzling. I understand Katrina is a fitness diva but is she relevant for the audience right now?

The latest campaign comes at the backdrop of the Sole Fury campaign. Named as the #splitfromthepack saw Bollywood actor Varun Dhawan dancing and gliding his way wearing the Sole Fury shoes.

Reebok has extended the #SheGotRee campaign on its website. Along with the video, the brand wants you to shop the apparel and footwear collection. It has the same problem as Puma India, the collections are not featuring Katrina. Additionally, you can download the “Anthem”. That is a bold ask from Reebok, asking for people to download the anthem in 2019. Why not when it is Ree. I am such a sadist. 

Nike “Make The World Listen”

Earlier this year Nike extended its global campaign “Make The World Listen” in India with an on-ground experience keeping women and sports in mind. The interactive campaign was curated for women to express themselves, speaking about breaking barriers of judgment and subsequently driving positive change in their communities. The event was supported by India’s most celebrated women athletes such as Deepika Kumari(Archery), Joshna Chinappa(Squash), Poovama(Sprinter) and Harmanpreet Kaur(Cricket).

The event was supported with activations to encourage women to get out and adopt fitness to their life without any fear or inhibitions. Nike a believer in developing innovative products to drive better fitness also showcased its sports bra - a functional garment to enable women with ease and comfort.

Nike also roped in Nikita Seth and Tanya Agarwal, who started the #ShedItRun movement. As influencers for Nike India’s the girls along with several others led a 3- kilometer run. About 2,200 women attended and the first 500 got free sports bras.

Women’s category - one of the fastest-growing segments

For years sports in India meant Cricket led by men. In the last few years, there has been a change, sports like badminton, tennis, football, hockey, squash, boxing, to name a few have started getting the attention. Apart from men women are winning and becoming role models for society.

Thanks to social media and the government initiatives everyone wants a lean figure and wants to look good. But any form of fitness activity needs focus and dedication, it is a habit that you build every day. 

So how fit is India? According to the National Family and Health Survey (NFHS), a person is considered to be thin or overweight or obese, if their Body Mass Index(BMI) score is less than 18.5 or more than 25. BMI scores between these values are considered normal.

“Between 2005 and 2006 and 2015 and 2016, India reduced the share of thin people in its population by 12.7 and 14 percentage points for women and men, respectively. However, there was also an increase of 8.1 and 9.6 percentage points in the share of overweight/obese population for women and men respectively,” reported HT.

The report also finds out that richer, middle-aged and urban population is more likely to be overweight or obese in India. Women are more likely to be overweight or obese than men after they cross 30.

According to another study done on a sample size of 3000 Indian adults aged 18 and above revealed:

“Almost two-thirds (64%) of Indians say that they don’t exercise. Nearly half (46%) of consumers say that leading a healthy lifestyle is their top priority, only 37% of them actually exercise.”

One of the reasons highlighted by the participants as the top barrier for exercising was the lack of time. “Almost a third (31%) of consumers say that they don’t have time to exercise.”

One of the reasons PM Narendra Modi initiated the “Fit India Movement” was due to the growing concern for staying healthy amid rising instances of lifestyle disorders and non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“According to the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the estimated proportion of all deaths due to NCDs has increased from 37.09% in 1990 to 61.8% in 2016.”

Obviously, this is a global opportunity for sports brands and India is a lucrative market. As documented by Euromonitor research, the sportswear market in India has grown from Rs. 24,000 crore in 2014 to Rs. 37,000 crore in 2016 at more than 50% over the past two years. While men’s wear comprises the biggest share of the Indian sportswear market but women’s market is the fastest-growing segment in India.

Puma considers women’s category as one of the fastest-growing segments is contributing 30% of the business. Adidas is witnessing the same trend in India. Speaking to AFAQS, Sharad Singla, the brand director revealed the year-on-year product sale of women's category is growing. “It still is relatively low but is growing at a rate that we did not think it would.”

In the interview, Sharad was candid enough to accept that as a sports brand it has always tend to share stories of sports ‘men’.

“We have never actively celebrated women in the field. That is the only marketing strategy change that we needed and have made. This will be one of our focus areas in the years to come along with sustainability.”

Japanese sportswear company Asics, who's running gear contribute 70% to its topline in India, says women running shoes now make up 22% of the pie compared to 12% a few years ago.

For Reebok, it wants to live in the intersection of fitness and fashion. It wants to tap into the athleisure market in India which is growing at 18-20% and is expected to touch roughly $8 billion by 2020.

Under Armour, a new entrant in the Indian market is doing the opposite by focussing on the performance market. After being present online for 2 years, the brand recently opened up a retail store and launched a marketing campaign supporting the Indian women's ice hockey team. (Read: Can Under Armour be a loud brand and quiet company in India)

Indian women are marching ahead in every field and sports is one of them. Good for the country and sports brands. The market will keep growing backed with aggressive campaigns both online and offline. 

Will this make India fit? The conversations and movement are definitely there but fitness also involves dedicated focus, taking control of eating habits and lifestyle change. 

Don’t aspire to be fit instead build a healthy lifestyle. Just like Dwayne Johnson aka “The Rock” says: “I am not working out, I am not sweating. I am building habits by breaking barriers, records, and stereotypes.”