By the 1980s, lures evolved beyond their original design as the B.A.S.S. pros constantly sought ways to gain an edge on the competition. Deep diving crankbaits expanded into shallow running models, and the flipping and pitching technique evolved from novel to mainstream tactic. Those were only examples of how the Bassmaster Tournament Trail set trends that made overnight heroes of the pros and the lures used by them to win.
Curt Arakawa and his colleagues at Daiwa saw what was happening, and they turned a marketing idea into a success story the likes of which at the time was unheard of.
“All those lures were evolving but the rod designs remained the same,” he recalled. “We wanted to design rods specific to techniques and lures.”
The idea was brilliant. Design a rod that would be an extension of the lure. From hookset to landing of the fish, the rod would be designed for a specific job. Daiwa’s idea was to partner with pros whose skill sets had proven track records with specific techniques.
“We wanted to associate our brand at the highest level of the sport,” explained Arakawa. “Doing so added credibility to what we were trying to achieve.”
An idea was born and it became Team Daiwa. The idea wasn’t new in the industry. Research and development for new products was an inside job handled by designers and engineers, from start to finish. When the lure was ready for retail, the brand assembled a pro team to endorse it and add credibility to the new product.
Daiwa took a different approach. Its pro team had design input from every aspect of the product design. The signature line of rods was therefore more than just an advertising gimmick.
“We were lucky to have picked the right anglers, because they kept winning after we signed them for Team Daiwa,” said Arakawa.
In fact, Team Daiwa evolved into an ad campaign that took on a life of its own, and lasted into three decades. And the campaign’s success came with the stamp of approval from Bassmaster Classic titles.
The names were synonymous with the techniques that made them famous. Rick Clunn set a Classic record at the time in 1984 with a winning weight of 75 pounds, 9 ounces, that included the largest margin of victory at 25-8. Clunn won the tournament with a shallow running crankbait. The prior year, a worm/jig rod was introduced after the guru of the technique, Larry Nixon, won the Classic.
The anglers had feedback on every rod, from blank to final product. Clunn’s signature cranking rod featured a fiberglass blank with an outer graphite mesh finish for added sensitivity.
“Rick wanted a soft tip so the bait would work properly,” Arakawa said. “The softer tip allowed the fish to inhale the crankbait for a better hooking ratio.”
Over the next decade, Daiwa scored big and more specialty rods were introduced. Ken Cook’s 1991 title inspired a spinnerbait rod, and then Team Daiwa anglers won four consecutive Classics. Those were George Cochran (1996), Dion Hibdon (1997), Denny Brauer (1998) and Davy Hite (1999). Then came another run from 2002 through 2004, with titles won by Jay Yelas, Michael Iaconelli and Takahiro Omori.
All along the way, fishermen benefited the most from Daiwa’s product design insight gained from its pros.
“Putting the pros’ name on a specialty rod gave the consumer a starting point on how to choose the best rod for the technique,” said Arakawa.
Daiwa’s reel segment also benefited as consumers wanted the complete precision matched rod and reel for the given technique. The Daiwa TD1H experienced phenomenal success as a result.
Team Daiwa did as much for the brand as it did for the fishermen it intended to help catch more and bigger fish. All around it was a win-win that Daiwa hopes to continue in the future.