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Nike, Dick's get real in new round of women's ads

Let's face it, working out is tough.

Whether it's talking themselves into that extra set of sit-ups, or choosing to hit the gym in lieu of a much-needed nap, sometimes women need a little extra push to make time for exercise.

That's exactly the message that athletic wear firms are tapping into in their latest round of marketing, as they seek to include women of more sizes and capabilities and connect with a broader swath of customers.

Source: Carbon38

In April, Nike launched its new "Better For It" campaign, including a video spot that outlines women's inner thoughts, and insecurities, as they attend a yoga class or run a half-marathon.

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This month, Dick's Sporting Goods is rolling out its first advertising campaign targeted directly toward women, featuring a group of females juggling exercise with their busy schedules, including picking up their kids from school.

And at Carbon38, an upscale, online activewear store, a simple change in the website's imagery—showcasing athletes instead of traditional models—increased customers' connection with the brand.

"I think that for the longest time females were kind of relegated to the same strategies that were served to motivate men," said Carla Serrano, chief strategy officer for Publicis Worldwide North America. "Why not kind of redefine it and re-express it in the same way that it's actually happening in the real world?"

It's no surprise that athleticwear firms are catering their advertising to women. As females trade in their jeans for yoga pants and increasingly wear the stretchy gear outside of the gym, women now account for at least half of the shoppers in the sporting goods category, said Lauren Hobart, chief marketing officer at Dick's Sporting Goods. What's more, women's activewear sales rose 8 percent last year on a dollar basis, according to data from The NPD Group market research firm.

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As their share of the pie grows, so do the types of women wearing the trend. That means firms are no longer speaking only to gym rats who exercise five days a week; instead, they're also reaching out to the mother wearing yoga pants as she pushes her kids in a stroller.

Dick's Hobart said it's been interesting to see how different women connect with various aspects of the spot.

"For us, we are always trying to be at our core about authenticity and being real, and showcasing the real lives of everyday people," she said.

For Serrano, it's a welcome change in brand communications—one, she said, that is resonating. It's also indicative of a broader trend across the industry, which has recently shied away from the once-prevalent body shaming tactic. Recent examples include the latest line from shapewear firm Spanx, which focuses less on creating the perfect body, and a campaign from plus-size retailer Lane Bryant, which encourages women to embrace their curves.

But it's not all about the ads. In addition to its "What Will You Be?" campaign, Hobart said Dick's has expanded the space and assortment dedicated to women at the majority of its stores, including the exclusive line it launched with Carrie Underwood in March.

Similar to Dick's, Nike's latest round of ads takes a more realistic yet humorous approach. Instead of acting as if they're all expert athletes, the campaign taps into what everyday women are really thinking while they're at the gym or on a run. For example, why does everyone else at spin class look like a model?

Toward the end of the spot, the women start self-motivating themselves, until they eventually accomplish their goals. Publicis' Serrano said the ads are not only more inclusive, but they're also more genuine.

"It's not trying too hard," Serrano said. "I find that to be more motivating than someone telling me that I can rule the world."

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Kerri Hoyt-Pack, vice president of brand marketing for NikeWomen and women's training, said "the incredible energy around women's sport and fitness is a cultural shift, not a trend." As such, the athletic wear firm also created the Nike+ Training Club app for women, which has been downloaded more than 19 million times, she said.

With revenue coming in at $5 billion for 2014, Nike's women's sales growth is outpacing its men's business, and represented about 18 percent of the athletic wear firm's total revenue last year. Hoyt-Pack said the company aims to reach $7 billion in sales for its women's business by the end of 2017.

Although Carbon38 is a relative newcomer to the athletic wear space—the online shop launched a little more than two years ago—co-founders Caroline Gogolak and Katie Warner Johnson quickly learned how much the brand's messaging can influence shoppers.

About a year and a half after launching the site, the trained dancers changed the imagery on Carbon38's site from traditional fashion models to actual athletes or fitness instructors, to better portray the performance aspects of the merchandise. In doing so, they swapped out pictures of thin models for professionals with muscle tone, and changed their static poses into headstands and yoga postures.

"The products and brands that were typically low sellers for us started to have a higher conversion rate when we photographed [them] on athletes," Gogolak said.

Though Gogolak declined to quantify the sales lift, she said it occurred across every brand on the site. Carbon38's models also double as fitness ambassadors for the brand, to help spread the word about the company and communicate customer feedback.

"Our whole motto is to test and see what works and doesn't, and not really consider it a failure," Gogolak said. "I'm hoping that as we grow, we … continue to maintain that culture."