Today, when you walk in the Chinese streets of Shanghai or Beijing, you can’t miss the impressive stores of Fila. Modern lights, impressive colors, celebrities endorsements, and active sales advisors are part of Fila’s marketing strategy. The rebranding story is a success for the Italian tennis brand that switched from a forgotten brand to the most trendy brand in China. They implemented several marketing strategies and branding moves that enabled the brand to outperform in China today.
But their secret recipe has another key ingredient: Anta.
What is Anta?
Anta is the Chinese super giant of sports equipment and sportswear. The company Anta Sports Products Ltd is valued at 50 billion euros on the exchange market. And this is the strength of the group: Anta is not only a licensing company, but the second top sportswear brand in China after Li-Ning.
This is not the first attempt of the group to take over European brands. Anta is already owning the sports equipment and sportswear brands Wilson, Atomic, and Salomon.
Even though its name is not familiar to the majority of European citizens, this super giant is seen as a glutton. They are acquiring all the brands on the market to build a complex octopus. But above all, they have a unique strike force. The sports group benefits from a complex retail network, marketing network, advertising strength, and event capability to push any marketing strategy (including Fila).
From Italy to Korea, Fila Found a New Breath in China
The history is traceable more than 110 years ago when the two brothers Ettore and Giansevero Fila created the brand. Since Biella city in the Piedmont region in Italy, the brand went a long way.
From the small Italian town to the Sports Brand International Ltd in the US, the brand was then acquired by Fila Korea. In 2010, Fila Korea launched an IPO and became Fila Holding Corps in 2020. In the meantime, the Chinese company Belle International Holdings Ltd acquired the company in 2007 for mainland China, Hong Kong, and Macau. The group Belle created a joint venture with the Luxembourg entity in Singapore before selling all its shares to Anta. Anta acquired Belle’s full stake in the joint venture in 2009 and became the exclusive licensee of the Fila brand in Greater China.
A New Strategic Roadmap Impulsed by Anta
When Anta acquired Fila, the goal was clear: become 1 of the top 3 brands in the high-end sports market. Through the consumer target and strategic initiatives, Anta managed to bring this goal to life.
1. Fila, The Successful Rebranding Marketing Strategy
In recent years, the history of Fila was a roller coaster. In 1998, the brand’s sales dropped by 50%. At that time, the brand was unable to focus on a category, and diversification (which is today their strength) was their major pain point. By targeting too large, they were targeting nobody with a too-wide offer.
In 2007, the Korean and Chinese groups conducted the brand’s rebirth. Instead of focusing on sportsmen and athletes, they decided to focus on a new target: Gen Z and Millenials. Their marketing strategy was to leverage the theme of nostalgia and the memories that Fila could bring back. They managed to revive retro aesthetics in a modern way, totally aligned with the current hot trends in China.
2. The “Spreading Celebrities Marketing” of Fila in China
The “New Star” industry was an exceptional opportunity for Fila to target the Chinese Gen Z and Millenials. They conducted partnerships with several celebrities to flow the market with celebrity endorsements. Their marketing strategy started with a viral post on Weibo.
They conducted a topic called “对话” (Conversation). They launched the hashtag #一个时代的偶像# (#The Idols of Our Time) which was seen +460 million times and source of +456K discussions. With this campaign, Fila managed to identify the right idols who were resonating the most with their target audience. They multiplied brand collaborations with Gao Yuanyuan, Shu Qi, Huang Jingyu, and Chen Kun.
At Reverse Group, we own the celebrities and influencers’ agency ECHO. We provide celebrity endorsements and unique venues including TV shows, gala dinners, events, fashion shows, etc. Based on your brand’s positioning and objectives, we can organize collaborations with celebrities Lexie Liu, Hebe Tien, Nineone, Amber Liu, and many more.
3. The “Multiple Stores in One Location” Strategy
Fila leveraged the location of malls to provide multiple stores in one location. This marketing strategy implies using different floors, spaces, and animations to propose different stores to target different consumers at the same mall.
They implemented this strategy in both Malls and Flagship stores. With different stores, they provided different customer experiences in the same place to resonate with each person crossing the door. For instance, they mixed Professional Sports with an experience zone for athletes who want a demonstration of professional sports, and Kids Sports with an experience zone with games and playful activities for kids, and Trendy Sport with an experience zone dedicated to trendy activities from karaoke to skateboarding.
4. Fila, The “Precision Marketing” Strategy with Specialized Touchpoints
The main strength of Fila in China is the precision marketing. They used this method in both product development and consumer touchpoints.
For product development, they implemented complete consumer research to identify the proportion of kidswear, the development direction of the sportswear, and the product mix with footwear. Such research is key to start, grow, and adjust your brand positioning over time in such a highly competitive market. And for the consumers touchpoints, they managed to turn their diversification into a strength. They focus on crossover branding for Millennials, athletes’ endorsements for sports professionals, trendy stores for Gen Z, and the “fan economy” to build a higher resonance to make all groups come together.
5. The Right “Strategic Network Partner”
When we look at the Fila case study in China, it is clear that their success is coming from their fruitful partnership with Anta. They didn’t go with any local provider. They chose a licensing model with a local group that has the network to make them thrive. And it’s the same for small and medium brands.
Your success does not lie in the selection of a general agency in China. It lies in the curated choice of a partner with a key specialization in your industry and a strong network “Guanxi” to make the brand available in the right places.
With my partner June Fan, we created Reverse Group with this idea to facilitate business thanks to our network. We specialized in luxury, fashion, and lifestyle brands with niche categories ranging from sportswear to yoga, pilates, meditation, and mental wellness. We developed our network through celebrities, malls, retail stores, and platform owners including Tencent and Xiaohongshu.
Whether you have a simple question or need local support, we’re here to help.