It looks like the media run at Lululemon Athletica, first to market in the fashion-forward athleisure apparel market, may be over. We’ve written extensively about the the brand’s potential to turn a negative news event (see-through yoga pants) into a growing base of brand media awareness. But the brand took a beating last month, losing -6 points to close at a 57 media rating, only 1-point ahead of where it was 3 years ago and a full -27 points off its 4-year high of 84 in March 2013. All growth indicators are down, -11% for the month, -18% over the prior year, and off -2% over the cumulative 4-year media period.
Lululemon’s sector rank has suffered over the ensuing media cycles as competition within the athletic apparel sector has increased, with less focus on sports and more focus on fashion. At the brand’s peak, Lululemon ranked #4 in the crowded athletic apparel brand sector, trailing only Nike, Adidas, and Under Armour! Lately the brand has lost ground to New Balance (73/#4), North Face (68/#5), Reebok (68/#5), and sexy newcomer Ivy Park (64/#7) (Beyonce’s athleisure offering).
The long-term view of Lululemon in the broad media landscape shows an embraced opportunity that has been difficult to sustain. The 4-year media rating decline may appear subtle at first glance, but the media momentum bar chart paints a story of declining media momentum.
The media had already tagged Lululemon as the brand to go after in the athleisure apparel sector. All the leaders joined in on the hot new market segment and a number of new brands have entered the space. Ivy Park poses significant media risk for Lululemon given the brand’s affiliation with megastar Beyoncé.
From a media perspective, Lululemon could have called its post see-through-yoga-pant-recall media period a success if the brand had maintained a rating above 60 points, i.e., +10 points above its pre-recall media period. But competition is fierce in the high-growth fashion-forward segment of the athletic apparel sector. Many of the new, small brand entries are garnering little media attention. It’s the established brands with product line extensions going directly after Lululemon’s core business that are drawing away the brand’s media limelight.
Our unsolicited advice? Proactively monitor and manage the shifting media attention at the critical segment level to ensure Lululemon’s ratings return to the +60 range. Create compelling and sustainable story lines around the design-focused Lululemon brand and its healthy, community-focused values. Capitalize on and celebrate an amazingly loyal customer base. And watch your back, keeping a close eye on the Ivy Park’s of the athletic apparel world, including small brands like Athleta, Oiselle, Yogasmoga, and Fabletics.