David Blecken
Jan 9, 2017

McLaren finds a connection with sumo's lightest star

The British company has become the first international car brand to align with an athlete in Japan's national sport.

Ishiura outside McLaren's showroom in Ariake
Ishiura outside McLaren's showroom in Ariake

Japan’s national sport of sumo would seem to have little in common with high-performance cars, not least because its athletes tend to be too big to fit into the seats. But McLaren Automotive sees much in common with sumo’s most compact star, Masakatsu Ishiura.

On 7 January at its industrial showroom in Tokyo’s Ariake, the British carmaker presented Ishiura with a branded keshō-mawashi, the ceremonial belt worn by upper-level wrestlers as they enter the competition ring. Ishiuara’s first bout of the season was on 8 January and McLaren’s sponsorship of the belt will last for an indefinite period, according to the company’s chief executive, Kinichi Kawamoto. The agreement is McLaren’s first venture into the world of sumo.

What’s the connection? At 115 kilos, 26-year-old Ishiura is the sport’s lightest practitioner. He has a driving licence but does not currently use it, using a bicycle as his main mode of transport. This does not seem to be a major issue. Kawamoto said Ishiura demonstrated “all the characteristics of McLaren”, being light, fast and powerful. His good looks and gentlemanly challenger spirit are also important factors. McLaren’s target customers are wealthy, mature people “with a young heart and the manners of a gentleman,” Kawamoto said.

Ishiura’s 42 victories to date have been against the odds. After training as a sumo wrestler, Ishiura nearly gave up on the sport and moved to Australia for a brief stint, but decided to return to Japan and re-enter the competitive arena after being inspired by friends’ success. His unconventional style is likely to help broaden the appeal of sumo itself.

McLaren’s agreement comes ahead of the launch of a new model at the Geneva Motor Show in March. Kawamoto said McLaren saw good potential in sumo as a platform to expand awareness of the brand in Japan, given that it’s the national sport and an unobvious place to find automotive sponsors.

“Everyone in Japan knows Ferrari, but we’re not very well known in Japan as a supercar maker,” said Kawamoto. “Sumo is the national sport, and shown around the world on NHK, so we wanted to use that opportunity. We found it to be a meaningful way to promote the brand.”

McLaren has been in Japan since 2012. Last year, it sold 98 units in the country.

Source:
Campaign Japan

Related Articles

Just Published

20 hours ago

Uproar: Are animal portrayals in ads a new brand risk?

Advertisers and agencies love animals, because animals sell. But a Year of the Tiger Gucci campaign that made activists growl shows that the definition of what’s appropriate may be evolving when it comes to using the world's fauna.

21 hours ago

Mark Heap on ‘moving across the aisles’ to ...

Media agencies offer broadly the same services as one another, and use propositions like ‘good growth’ and ‘people first’ to establish an identity. But what do these mean, in practical terms, and how do they influence leadership strategies? Mark Heap takes us inside the industry.

21 hours ago

The ride of the tiger: Feast your eyes on BMW's ...

While other brands make long, dramatic Chinese New Year films, the carmaker and TBWA's Bolt have programmed in a very different route: 90 seconds that's 'nothing but sheer joy'.

21 hours ago

The Beijing Olympics: A non-starter for global sponsors

SHANGHAI ZHAN PODCAST: Beijing-based sports-marketing expert Mark Dreyer says the games will see largely Chinese brands targeting the China market, with many employing Chinese-American skier/model Eileen Gu.