‘One in a Billion’: adidas Appeals to Chinese Desire for Individuality


Adidas China

The ad starts with a Apple “1984” vibe and there is a reason adidas did that. The West’s view of China as a homogenized, hive-minded society is a tired stereotype. But within China, the idea of individualism is a young one. And China’s middle-class is continuing to explore individuality through consumerism. adidas’ new “One in a Billion” campaign is a perfect example of this and an extension of the bull’s-eye messaging the German athletic brand has pulled off in China recently.

The video opens on a polluted, grey, anywhere-in-China cityscape with an army of carbon copy athletes performing repetitive basketball dribbling. The “one, two, one, two” count from a man on a loudspeaker is reminiscent of the mandatory schoolyard morning exercises every Chinese child has done countless times. But then, one guy comes awake and begins freestyle dribbling. The contagion spreads and soon another guy is winging it. And then another and another. The movement spreads and soon athletes across the Chinese city are doing it their own way. The ad stars gold medal-winning Team China swimmer Ning Zetao and women’s volleyball Team China captain Hui Ruoqi—Both are flanked by China Football Ambassador David Beckham. Zetao appears in other Adidas videos, performing athletic feats with the billion tagline.

Adidas China

While the campaign is called “One in a Billion,” the Chinese tagline for the message “我是亿万里挑一” is closer to “I am One in a Billion.”

It’s a powerful message and an extension of an important consumer desire in China to buy “freedom.” brandchannel first noted this explosion of freedom through consumption in 2013, when we took a look at brands from Harley-Davidson to Volvo to Chinese smartphone brand Oppo crafting brand messages that included the term 自由 (zìyóu), or “freedom.”

adidas appears to be well aware of the data showing the past desire to buy into established, reliable brands is giving way to a balance of wanting emotional, personal brand attachment. Its recent brand positioning in China includes spokesperson and unique young fashion icon Angelbaby. Other recent adidas China messaging includes the tagline “自由行 乐无沿” which was translated to “Live Your Style” in English but which roughly translates to “Freestyle. Happiness without Following.”

This desire for consumer individuality is appearing beyond the athleisure market. For example, there is tourism. For a decade, the flood of China’s outbound tourists were happy with the intensely planned package tour. No longer. Travelers now want an personalized, unique tourist adventure. One example of the consequences of this shift is that New Zealand is suffering a shortage of skydiving instructors.

The gold rush into China’s athleisure market is on. The sector is predicted to continue to grow by double digits and be worth $43 billion by 2020. (That would be about half the value of the US athleisure market.)

The takeaway from Adidas’ new message is that if your brand is in China or thinking about going there, consider how it might speak to this consumer desire for individuality.


(adidas ad in Shanghai via Weibo.)


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