Is Footasylum becoming an entertainment brand?

Footasylum's Youtube subscription numbers rose by a colossal 2980% last year and it has continued to produce entertainment-focused videos since, featuring a number of top Youtuber stars. Retail Gazette looks at whether the footwear retailer is gradually transforming into an entertainment brand.

Footasylum youtube entertainment
Footasylum launched its Youtube channel in 2018.

Founded by David Makin in 2005 and joined by John Wardle in 2008 – the original co-founders of JD Sports – Footasylum has since become an established UK sportswear retailer.

In its Introduction to Footasylum report, the retailer said it was “trend-leading” and had a “strong understanding of the core 16-24 year old customer base”.

Arguably, Footasylum’s understanding of fashion-conscious consumers is evident through its Youtube channel, which posts weekly videos featuring well-known UK Youtubers taking quizzes, taking part in rap battles, reviewing and rating trainers, and even providing dating advice.

At the time of the Introduction to Footasylum report in 2017, it had not yet launched its Youtube channel, with its first video posted on January 9, 2018. Since then, it’s arguable that the retailer’s Youtube offering may have accounted for Footasylum’s online revenues reaching £76 million in 2019, compared with £59 million in the previous year.

For the 52-week period ended February 23, 2019, Footasylum reported an “increasing volume of online traffic,” according to the latest files posted in Companies House.

Sportswear retailers working with Youtubers and/or celebrities is not entirely surprising as capturing the attention of young consumers may prove crucial in an age where social media has dominated the entertainment industry.

Footasylum youtube entertainment
Footasylum was founded as a sportswear retailer in 2005 by David Makin.

JD Sports was no stranger to drafting in well-known figures, for instance. In its 2019 Christmas advert, it featured the likes of Anthony Joshua, Jesse Lingard, Mabel, and Anne Marie. Some of these names were also featured in its 2018 ad.

The retailer, which recently faced a £300,000 fine for allegedly breaking an order from the CMA over its takeover of Footasylum, said during the Christmas trading period that its festive ad was intended to help consumers find outfits for the holiday.

However, it remains debatable as to why other major sportswear retailers haven’t pressed ahead with celebrity endorsements. Despite Footlocker’s collaboration with Dua Lipa in 2017, it has not launched a major collaboration since and Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct has not been one to inject celebrity endorsements into its brand.

While JD Sports appears to solely lean towards public figures during Christmas in an effort to attract shoppers, Footasylum is regularly drafting in Youtube celebrities, with weekly videos featuring topics which are at times, unrelated to retail or sportswear.

Working with Youtubers may be somewhat expected from an entertainment brand, but Footasylum reputation as a sportswear retailer and its seemingly apparent shift towards entertainment is worth noting. Nonetheless, it’s no surprise. Retailers have been experimenting with the entertainment approach through social media influencers across social, video and content platforms.

According to James Calvert, chief data strategy officer at advertising agency M&C Saatchi, “covering topics like relationships, friendships and food is a meaningful way for Footlocker to be part of its audience’s culture”.

“Working with YouTubers is something you might expect an entertainment brand to do, but it’s not something Footlocker holds exclusive rights to,” he told Retail Gazette.

“Showing like-mindedness creates a sense of belonging, and the regular YouTube format offers frequency and reach, allowing it to be a part of its audience’s day-to-day twice a week, every week.”

Despite other sportswear retailers primarily focusing on Instagram advertising and own-brand apps, Footasylum has arguably made Youtube a key component of its social media strategy – alongside Instagram.

“Footasylum’s Youtube approach is a way to further appeal to its typically young and urban target audience”

Tim Armoo, chief executive of marketing agency Fanbytes, said Footasylum’s Youtube offering was “part of a wider shift where brands are creating a lifestyle and entertainment brand centred around their product”.

Evidently, Footasylum is attempting to tap into urban culture with the recruitment of Youtubers Chunkz and Yung Filly. And given its offering of street and sportswear, it might be the right strategy.

“Chunkz and Yung Filly both have a really strong following, particularly within the young and urban target audience that Footasylum is targeting,” Armoo said.

He highlighted that sportswear retailers need to have a “deep understanding of culture and especially urban culture” in order to follow this route – which may be why Sports Direct – the self proclaimed “No 1 sports retailer in the UK” – has chosen to remain idle in this sense.

“Footasylum has leaned on rappers, singers, artists and creative professionals to push them into the public consciousness,” Armoo explained.

“This is a reflection of their market position; the quality and cost of their products. Whereas Sports Direct sells pure sporting goods, right down to the shinpads.

“Footasylum has instead cultivated more of an urban culture because it is appealing to the ‘cool kids’ who wear sportswear casually.”

Meanwhile, Chloé Collinson, content executive at digital agency Meta, said Footasylum’s approach towards YouTube is “the right way to go”. She said this was because “the world of marketing is constantly changing, especially with the rise of social influencers and apps like TikTok” – and Footasylum was taking advantage of this.

“Footasylum clearly knows its audience very well. It’s definitely a way to appeal further to its typically young and urban target audience,” she told Retail Gazette.

She added that Sports Direct may have fallen behind on this but a celebrity Youtube approach would not work because its target audience is generally older.

Undoubtedly, Footasylum has capitalised from its sponsorship of one of the UK’s biggest YouTubers, KSI, in 2018, in a bid to bring his millions of followers on board. The retailer has continued to produce Youtube series ever since, arguably transforming in a digital broadcaster.

Last year, 365 Retail reported a colossal 2980 per cent growth in Footasylum’s Youtube arm, with subscriber numbers rising from 6000 to 185,000 – in the process of creating the channel’s first three million-viewed videos.

At the time, Footasylum’s Youtube channel reached well over 24 million views, and it is expected to leverage on this digital success – especially at a time when the Covid-19 crisis has forced consumers to shift online. It may just be easier for Footasylum to keep customers engaged online – and Youtube is a thriving way to do that.

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