superchat amsterdam: raphaël mazoyer

photo: raphaël mazoyer - mazoyer's retro gaze

a lucky guy? he certainly thinks so. raphaël mazoyer is digital communications manager at asics' european hq. born in france, he received his training in the netherlands and after a stint in canada, he returned to the land of wooden shoes to go full throttle with his career at the japanese shoe + apparel manufacturer. an avid admirer of his employer's homeland and its culture, he feels his personal ethics and outlook to be very compatible. mazoyer is a born communicator, eagerly soaking up what the world has to offer, and candidly venting his beliefs and passions. superfuture met up with him for a chat at his fav dining place, just before the asics amsterdam flagship store opened.

what exactly is it you do at asics? i’m responsible for the online presence of asics and onitsuka tiger. the company as a whole required an improved compatibility between the corporate body and the brand itself. let me give you an example: sneaker shops in new york city came to us to revive the brand. tarantino’s kill bill movies [2003-2004] featured onitsuka shoes and accelerated this comeback. we ran out of vintage onitsuka sneakers because people want them. but there was no corporate strategy nor was there a rational analysis of this revival. my job is to structure such things. however, for asics there’s a well-defined positioning, we’re market leader in running shoes. mind you, 40-60% of the runners at the new york city marathon use asics shoes! things are pretty much cut out for me in that division. it’s a different story for onitsuka. the brand is pretty much in a transition phase. do you remember the tagline made of japan? we stand for a certain cultural set-up based in japanese values, but reinterpreted: craftsmanship, tradition, both repurposed in a modern manner at the conjunction of east and west. referring to the kill bill movies again, japan is the construction material but it’s not about japan in any way. we try to express the vision we have of the cultural space that the brand lives in and bring the elements to consumers who don’t know about it yet or have a basic view on japan. the work that we’ve been doing sofar was to pitch the brand perimeter but in 2011 it’ll be all different, we’re going to sit back and have consumers figure it out. the approach to onitsuka’s presence will change. we’ll only be getting in touch with people we know, avoiding ad agencies. art directors and planners, and dealing directly with ‘friends’ of the company. the first of such newly-formulated collabs will be revealed next february. a colleague of mine has a friend who’s a french graphic designer with japan as his ultimate inspiration. so much so, that he even changed his first name into takashi! anyway, he talked about the 1980 summer olympics in moscow which was a breakthrough for women’s sports and takashi proposed a series of designs using ikebana illustrations. i think he’s totally legit because japan is part of him as a creative, know what i mean? so the whole year will consist of such exciting collabs with a string of only friends.

photo: raphaël mazoyer - asics' new website

so how made of japan are you yourself? do you remember onitsuka’s electric tigerland campaign in which a hybrid model of a sneaker shoe was used? i totally loved it, in fact it was one of the factors that made me join the company. but to answer your question: i think i am made of japan myself. it really describes what’s true to me on a personal level, and being given the chance to align my professional activity with such a personal truth is extremely ecxiting but also a little scary. if i fuck it up it’s not just my job, you know?. did you see sofia coppola’s lost in translation? i was furious because she gives an image of japan that’s strongly misleading, inaccurate and flattering of certain western inclinations that i don’t consider to be proud of. actually, the job i have is in a very minor way a chance to get back at her. for me, japan is something else. it’s an inspirational place, it’s not ridiculous, not meaningless, not sad, but instead it’s a powerful, profound, interesting place that deserves more than a surface glance at the shimmering lights on the outside. that’s the japan i believe in! so, am i biased? ha…absolutely! what’s important for me is that i’m able to focus on integrity in the frame of a large business. i just love brand positioning, and i feel lucky that i don’t have to lie about the products or the story. in the two-and-a-half years at asics i’ve been able to do exactly that, in addition to being tickled and satisfied on a daily basis.

what can you tell us about the new asics website that just launched? we’ve been working on it since 2009, so for quite some time. it’s been quite a time-consuming job. from a consumer perspective very little changes. the biggest change is that we now have one website. but the asics section of the site does feature a big difference: the training programs that we offer are now created by the people of asics' research & development department. mind you, this is a lot of work, but…this is about stuff that truly comes from us. i’m really proud of the work that’s been done. we’ve launched only in europe for the time being. did you know that we have 28 websites for this continent alone? actually, we also need to launch in turkey and the middle east too but it’s very costly to enter a new market.

why has the online presence of asics and onitsuka tiger been so modest for so long compared to other sports brands?there’s this feeling that we really wanted to be picture perfect at the expense of actually reaching out to people. we were doing incredibly creative work, really beautiful stuff but it didn’t have the impact it deserved. what we’re trying to do right now is to change the perimeter of what we do so that we do things that matter to people such as in pr. all sorts of things will eventually change, we really need to know the people. i have the feeling that we’ve been operating very much in a closed circuit and this is something we’re now beginning to become aware of and try to address. i picked up running again because my colleague mairéad white simply suggested that ‘it would be good to do so’. eventually i realized that it really matters when you, as someone who’s working on the communications of the brand or working for the brand altogether, are making an effort to be part of your audience, of the runners in this particular case. and she did a great thing: she started a blog and talked about her running experiences, music, people, that kind of stuff. and you know what? six months ago that blog got her nominated as the most influential blogger on running! i think that at marketing departments there’s this tendency to understand the consumer through research and the statistics that polling agencies provide. but the personal, empathic approach of my colleague’s is just as valuable, if not more so!

photo: raphaël mazoyer - asics' new amsterdam flagship