How Calm wants to be the Nike of mental fitness

Tennis isn’t normally an enormous matter in the Slack channels at Calm, the mindfulness app valued at $2 billion. However when Naomi Osaka all of the sudden withdrew from the French Open on Memorial Day, citing her mental well being, the volleys about her determination began flying. By the subsequent morning, Calm’s world head of advertising and communications, Monica Austin, had convened of us from throughout the firm’s advertising, PR, expertise, and content material groups to determine the model’s potential position in the dialog—and consider the danger. Calm, which has labored with such celebrities as Matthew McConaughey and LeBron James however had no relationship with Osaka, had to resolve whether or not it might insert itself into the heated debate relating to Osaka’s alternative. Would outstanding sportswriters and the likes of British pundit Piers Morgan pillory Calm as that they had Osaka? Would even Osaka supporters discover Calm’s participation crass?

Austin’s impromptu group shortly determined that Calm might leap in with out feeling like an outsider—as long as it amplified its “mental well being is well being” message. The important thing was determining the proper means to do it.

Inside 48 hours, the firm had tweeted that it might be donating $15,000—the sum of Osaka’s effective—to Laureus Sport, a French mental well being group. Calm additionally dedicated to paying fines for any gamers who opted out of 2021 Grand Slam media appearances, and to donate the identical worth to Laureus Sport. “After we present up in widespread tradition,” says cofounder and co-CEO Michael Acton Smith, “we do want to be cautious we’re not being tone-deaf or too goofy, or too critical.”


Calm’s fast response was an ace, incomes it $28 million price of consideration inside every week, in accordance to media-monitoring agency Crucial Point out, and elevating it into the pantheon of model entrepreneurs who can each take part in and form cultural discourse, similar to Nike and Beats by Dre (each official Osaka sponsors). However Calm doesn’t have a long time of expertise enjoying this recreation. It lacks the tangible affinity individuals ascribe to sneakers and headphones. Calm additionally wades into fraught territory by establishing its identification round such an intensely private situation. As the firm strikes towards an IPO, the strain to carry out solely grows.

Calm’s intuition to leap into cultural debates is a pillar of what Austin calls the firm’s 50-50 technique. Half the time, Calm plans out its advertising campaigns. “The opposite 50% of the time, it’s about leaning into the place the dialog is going on in tradition,” says Austin, who joined from Netflix in April, “whereas sticking to our mission to destigmatize the dialog round mental well being.”

Calm has lengthy sought to suffuse popular culture into its app, and enlisted huge names to accomplish that. In July 2020, it launched a 39-minute bedtime story referred to as Dream With Me, learn by pop star Harry Kinds, and the on the spot demand briefly crashed the app. Then there was its intelligent drafting off the largest single occasion of 2020: the U.S. presidential election. Amid the excessive drama of what was billed as the most vital election of our lives, Calm drew consideration to itself throughout CNN’s cacophonous presentation with the televisual equal of a banner advert—its demure, blue cursive brand sat incongruously alongside CNN’s obtrusive crimson graphics—providing a reminder to breathe, as John King zoomed into new returns. Everybody from Advert Age to Teen Vogue declared Calm the huge winner of November 3, 2020. The next day, Calm vaulted 54 spots in Apple’s App Retailer rankings, in accordance to Sensor Tower, to No. 65 total.

Each side of Calm’s technique are orchestrated to construct its identification over the long run. “That is one part of establishing Calm as a model that doesn’t merely promote mental well being, however can be invested in defending it,” says Forrester vp and principal analyst Dipanjan Chatterjee. “The model emerges as an advocate and well-wisher, and most significantly, a information.”

Calm wants to distinguish itself in an more and more crowded marketplace for digital mental well being companies. As well as to competing in opposition to Headspace—which has an identical providing (see sidebar)—124 mental well being startups (together with Calm) collectively raised $1.5 billion in 2020, in accordance to CB Insights. In the first three months of 2021, they collected one other $852 million from buyers.

Critics see this as extra advertising than mindfulness. Randima Fernando, cofounder and government director of the Middle for Humane Expertise, informed the New York Occasions in February, “Mindfulness is much less about lowering stress and extra about lowering dissatisfaction by means of direct investigation of our expertise. However advertising stress discount is extra profitable, and undoubtedly extra possible to win a obtain or company account.”

Acton Smith says his aim is for Calm to be to mental well being what Nike has turn into for bodily exercise. When Nike began in the Nineteen Seventies, fitness wasn’t mainstream. “Nike brilliantly, by means of advertising and partnerships, normalized it, and sprinkled quite a bit of cool on it,” he says. “We’re doing the identical with Calm. That mental well being wave goes to be simply as huge.” Calm’s technique could stroll the line between intelligent and crass, but it surely undoubtedly received’t put you to sleep.


How Calm shapes up in opposition to its major rival, Headspace

Calm: Est. 2012, $218 M in VC funding, 60% Feminine/40% Male customers
Headspace: Est. 2010, $215.9 M in VC funding, 50% Feminine/50% Male customers

Calm: Added Sleep Tales in 2016 and now there are 100+, narrated by dreamy voices like Harry Kinds and Matthew McConaughey
Headspace: Launched Sleepcasts in 2018, a 45-minute podcast/bedtime-story hybrid for adults

Calm: Debuted popular-songs library in 2017, altered by Calm to bolster serenity based mostly on if you pay attention
Headspace: Appointed John Legend chief music officer in 2020 to curate stations to promote focus

Calm: A World of Calm (October 1, 2020, HBO Max) takes a NatGeo doc–fashion strategy to rest, narrated by stars like Idris Elba
Headspace: Headspace Information to Meditation (January 1, 2021, Netflix) seeks to ship zen through eight quick, animated episodes

Calm: Thomas the Tank Engine and the Trolls are there to information enlightened youngsters
Headspace: A youth-friendly model launched in 2016, and a Sesame Avenue sleep podcast, Goodnight, World!, bowed in June 2021