More than a sporting chance

Adidas is launching its biggest global brand campaign to mark its 60th anniversary. But will the lavish marketing event help it break Nike’s dominance in the US? asks Archana Venkatraman

adidasAt a time when few companies are in the party mood, German sportswear giant Adidas is bucking the trend with a lavish celebration of its 60-year history. In its biggest global brand campaign, Adidas has called on stars from music, fashion and sport – including David Beckham, Katy Perry, Missy Elliott and the Ting Tings – to celebrate six decades of the three stripes in 2009 (MW last week).

Industry analysts say the push is evidence of a brand with continued confidence and “relevance”, and that Adidas can hope to bolster its brand credentials with a campaign that flouts the global pessimism.

Although consistently one of the world’s strongest brands, Adidas often falls behind US rival Nike, particularly in the US, where the “Celebrate Originality” campaign launches. Adidas hopes to capitalise on its heritage with a year-long campaign that features a 60-second TV spot, digital, cinema, retail, events and press advertising. The ad is set at a glitzy house party, with guests all wearing Adidas Originals clothing and footwear.

It’s a long way from Adidas’ beginnings in the 1920s when Adolf Dassler made and sold shoes from his mother’s kitchen. In 1949, Dassler registered his company as Adidas, the moniker a combination of his first and last names. It followed a year after brother Rudolf split from the business, to eventually found rival brand Puma.

As Interbrand chief executive Rune Gustafson says: “It started off as a successful business but, like any family business, the brand has had its ups and downs.”

Its iconic three stripes branding has its own history. Adidas used three stripes along the side of the shoes to keep the foot stable. Instead of introducing a new logo along with the three stripes, Adidas registered the stripes. Calling it a modern and intelligent marketing play to turn the already iconic symbol as the brand logo, Gustafson says: “The three stripes to Adidas is what the colour purple is to Cadbury.”

From the mid-1960s, Adidas also started producing apparel and equipment, such as the footballs that have been the official match balls at major events since the 1970s. It came to dominate the sport, although Nike has renewed its attempts to become the major player in “soccer”.

Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of International Marketing Partners, credits the brand’s “guerrilla-like ad strategies” for its success, such as at the 2000 Sydney Olympics where Adidas was perceived as the official sponsor of the games instead of Nike. She says: “Adidas used the Olympic logo extensively throughout its campaign, a very clever move.”

Indeed, Adidas’ tactics were so successful that the International Olympic Committee has since tightened the guidelines of the use of its logo by brands.

Adidas is, however, the official sponsor, supplier and licensee of the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa and the 2014 event in Brazil and a top tier sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic Games. An Adidas spokeswoman says: “We will use those events to showcase our brand and our innovative products.”

Yet Adidas has struggled in the US. Nike’s sales to November “remained stagnant” but Adidas slid 3.9%, according to one analyst. Sporting Goods Intelligence says Nike’s worldwide market share at 36% overshadows the 21.8% share for Adidas.

Some say that Americans prefer native Nike than imports such as Adidas. Another industry source says: “Adidas has always been a challenger to Nike and never the lead brand.” According to the source, Adidas got “intimidated by Nike’s success” and paid £2.47bn in August 2005 for Reebok, a brand well established in the US.

Also, Adidas’ “Impossible is Nothing” strapline is not seen to be different enough to Nike’s earlier “Just Do It” maxim.

It has, however, tried to differentiate itself with tie-ups such as the partnership with British fashion designer Stella McCartney, whose sports performance collection was first launched in 2004. “When Adidas brought in Stella McCartney, it gave the brand an edge over its competitors because there is no Jimmy Choo for Puma and no Paul Smith for Nike,” says Stewart-Allen.

And while Nike has pure sports offering with technical proposition such as “pulse rate calculation” and Puma provides fashion offering, Adidas is a combination of both.

The Adidas brand comprises two divisions that reflect two distinct market segments – Sport Performance and Sport Style. Its product and marketing initiatives primarily focus on “five global priorities, which are running, football, basketball, training and Originals” says an Adidas spokesman. Its Sport Style division was launched to offer sports fashion products to “fashion-forward” consumers.

Adidas extended itself to other segments such as cologne, men’s toiletries and eyewear. The brand also proved its versatility when it signed music icon Madonna in 1989. “Adidas needs to pay attention to where it should stop the extension, otherwise it will become a bit of a joke,” warns Stewart-Allen. 

Facts and figures

1920s Adi Dassler starts developing special shoes for football and track and field 

1928 Dassler’s shoes are worn at the Olympic Games 

1949 Adidas is registered as a company. The company registers the Three Stripes as a trademark 

1978 Adi Dassler dies and his widow Käthe and son Horst take charge of running the company 

1995 Adidas floats on the Frankfurt and Paris stock exchanges 

1997 Adidas acquires the Salomon Group. The Salomon Group is sold in 2005 

2004 Adidas launches global brand campaign under the strapline “Impossible is Nothing” 

2006 Adidas AG acquires Reebok International 

2008 Adidas unveils its £200m sponsorship deal for London Olympics 2012.

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