For adidas, Creativity is the Pulsating, Risk-Taking Heart of its Brand

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adidas / Creativity is the answer

“Creativity is the answer.” So argues adidas, which sees athletics as a creative passion that drives inspiration and innovation for its brand, and its fans.

If great brands are driven by a relentless focus on customers, adidas is obsessed with helping athletes make a difference in their games, lives and world—because “through sport, we have the power to change lives.” And in a big year for sports, adidas has been making bold moves to show how creativity is its North Star.

It started its creative journey 82 years ago, when founder Adolf Dassler persuaded U.S. sprinter Jesse Owens to wear his handmade spikes at the 1936 Summer Olympics, made from canvas and rubber instead of much heavier metal. Owens accepted the challenge, and took home four Olympic gold medals.

adidas Creativity is the Answer / David Beckham

Fast-forward to 2018, when adidas pushed its own creativity for the world’s largest sporting event, the FIFA World Cup. It brought together 56 of the world’s most influential people in sports and culture including Leo Messi, Gabriel Jesus, David Beckham, Caroline Wozniacki, Karlie Kloss and Pharrell Williams.

“On the pitch, a moment of creativity can transform a game,” Messi stated. “You have to see the things that others can’t see and take chances others won’t. Creativity sets players apart.”

To launch the campaign, adidas invited a range of influencers—athletes, musicians, artists and filmmakers in London, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Paris, Shanghai, New York and Moscow—to co-create images and content for its first ever open-sourced campaign.

adidas Creativity is the Answer

Creativity Unbound

From athletes to fashionistas, from fans of football, running, training and basketball to the design-forward adidas Originals line, the adidas style is distinctive, diversified, sustainable and on the cutting edge.

As adidas Group CEO Kasper Rorsted told analysts on a recent earnings call, “We believe we have the product pipeline to support the planned top-line expansion for 2018 (and) create enough brand heat to drive the company forward.”

One proof point: the most popular sneakers on Instagram are the adidas NMD shoes, a sneaker style by adidas Originals that integrates traditional design sensibility with innovative technology, which has been hashtagged more than 5.7 million times. Referencing previous silhouettes, the NMD is equipped with Boost, combining running and casual for the ultimate shoe. It’s followed by the Yeezy 350 from its collaboration with Kanye West.

YEEZY BOOST 350 V2 BUTTER. AVAILABLE JUNE 30 AT ADIDAS.COM/YEEZY.

A post shared by adidas Originals (@adidasoriginals) on

Its social standing also rose with the launch of the P.O.D. system shoe, using personalized billboards to reach social media-savvy influencers and taste-makers.

In partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor, adidas Originals created 16 billboards targeting a broad range of consumers, from photographers to YouTube personalities, capturing their attention in a fast-moving digital world.

“We wanted to spark conversation,” Pascha Naderi-Nejad, senior director of Adidas Originals North America, told Adweek about the OOH/influencers campaign.

“These guys are the real sneaker celebrities. We wanted to get a lot of user-generated content, and we wanted to get their following to actually hit them up and say, ‘Hey, there’s a billboard with your name on it. What’s that all about?’”

Sustainable Branding

adidas has worked hard to become a more sustainable brand for two decades, halving its water usage and waste; it’s phasing out virgin plastic from its products, stores and offices globally by 2020.

Since 2015, the company has teamed with Parley for the Oceans to keep plastic trash out of oceans and upcycle that waste to create apparel and footwear. Its ZeroDye fabric initiative cuts the amount of water, energy and chemicals used in manufacturing.

Rorsted said last year adidas sold one million shoes made out of recycled ocean plastic (each Parley shoe reuses 11 plastic shoes). “That’s where we invest money—companies that have the technology that we need, companies that have materials that are unique. We are investing much more in companies that make a step forward in sustainability, or makes the manufacturing process much more sophisticated.”

A History of Bold Creativity

In another example of how it’s infusing its brand with creativity, the brand received the Grand Prix in Entertainment for Music at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, along with an Adweek Brand Genius award, for its “Original is Never Finished” campaign.

“The one thing I always say actually is watch the competition of your industry but don’t benchmark them,” said Alegra O’Hare, VP of global brand communications. “If you start benchmarking the competition of your industry that’s when you fall into the worst trap. The future of brands and companies will be about brands that create culture, not consume culture, and that’s the benchmark I look at.”

The sports brand was launched in 1924 by Adolph Dassler (whose portmanteau name was inspired by Adolph’s nickname of Adi and the first part of his surname) to produce spiked running shoes. Today, the company is the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe and the second largest in the world, after Nike, although its growth outpaces its fierce rival. In 2017, adidas brand sales in North America increased 25%, compared with 3% for Nike.

Its first quarter 2018 top-line growth was driven by North America, China and e-commerce sales—but as Rorsted commented, “we managed to grow the bottom line significantly faster than the top line while continuing to invest into creating brand desire.”

Below, a look at how adidas localized creativity this past year:

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