Why do you play sports? A semiotic look at sports ads
October 12 is the Japanese national holiday of Sport’s Day. Part of the day’s purpose is to encourage the healthy behavior of doing sports. After all, Japan has to keep up its reputation of having the world’s longest-living citizens. Sportswear brands are also trying to get people to play sports. How? What messages are they using to motivate?
It’s about the journey
When it comes to domestic brands, ‘journey’ appears to be the recurring theme. Both Mizuno and Asics, in their respective TVCs for running shoes, craft a narrative based on the idea of process involved in playing sports. This is a clear departure from the traditional dichotomy of winning and losing. Success is defined differently than mere “winning”. Success is instead defined from a personal perspective. In Mizuno’s ad, the female protagonist runs to better herself as a person. For her, success is the process of self-improvement itself. Similarly, Asics shows us a male runner who runs to relieve stress, making him grow stronger and more balanced day by day. Both brands communicate that the small steps that we take each day are success in themselves, motivating us to engage with sports.
While these Japanese brands are consistent in celebrating ‘journey’, Under Armour and Adidas take a different route and celebrate ‘result’. Although there is still a sense of progress felt in the Under Armour ad, what ultimately matters is whether that struggle leads to triumph in the end – triumph recognized by others in the form of “winning”. Here, we are seeing a much more non-relative world of sports. Adidas brings us an even more binary worldview, as suggested by the narration “do something and be remembered, or do nothing and be forgotten”. With a dramatic soundtrack reminiscent of the Batman Dark Knight trilogy, the ad tries to convince us that we must urgently prove ourselves and succeed now, because the past is irrelevant.
While the idea of sports as part of our daily journey towards a healthy lifestyle would resonate with the reality of many Japanese adults, the approach and tone taken by Under Armour and Adidas may resonate more with high school students who are accustomed to playing sports in bukatsu’s competitive context. An interesting question to consider is if there’s an even more motivating way to communicate the value of doing sports – perhaps something that sits in between the two discourses.
Article by Atsu Ishizumi