Adidas spotlights 'dark social' to be the ‘most personal brand’

Its one-to-one messaging rather than one-to-many messaging that’s dominating the digital space and Adidas is trying to get a truer sense of those intimate conversations with new forms of social listening.

To gain that intimacy advantage and become “the most personal brand”, the company is trying to track communications that are shared privately. There’s a reason dark social is called dark - because it’s currently very difficult to track, which is why Adidas is using WhatsApp to build hyper local communities in cities across the world.

Dedicated ‘squads’ will go live on the messaging app in Berlin, London, Paris, Milan and Stockholm this month, with the aim of using these communities to learn, test and optimise its dark social media. During the Copa America in June, the squads will be sharing content in New York and during UEFA Euro championship the groups in Paris will continue. From July onwards, these groups will go global, though not necessarily always on WhatsApp it could be Facebook Messenger in some markets.

Members will receive news released through dark social before anywhere else as well as invites to events and access to Adidas’ ambassadors, from athletes to artists. Essentially, the groups will “live the adidas speed philosophy, first to share and first on the guest list,” said senior director of global brand communications for Adidas Football Florian Alt.

“WhatsApp was specifically chosen as our research shows that consumers already use the app to create their own micro-communities,” he continued. “Adidas wants to be the most personal brand, so we need to know and understand our consumer in order to have a meaningful relationship…. There is huge potential in dark social. We’re one of the first brands to embrace the opportunity so it’s important we test and learn as we move forward.”

For this project, the sportswear business will look at new metrics such as individual conversations.

Shining light on the darkness

Dark social has been on Adidas’ thoughts for some time; the sportswear business started recruiting its squads as early as the UEFA Champions League final last year in Berlin when it used Twitter's DM feature to invite a group of advocates to a private conversation with one of its sponsored players. And with the proliferation of Snapchat in the West and Wechat in the East, platforms like this are where people are increasingly sharing what truly interests them with others they share a deeper connection. Inbound web traffic coming from dark social, such as via links from email, forums or instant message, accounted for 74 per cent in the UK in 2014, according to RadiumOne.

“As long as the dark social platforms continue to innovate, we’ll find new ways to use the technology,” said Alt. “In the past you could only send text, but now you can send video and image, which has opened doors. Using a mix of content we can reward advocacy with personalised approaches like inviting consumers into a dialogue with Adidas stars, offering live coverage from events or simply handle customers service queries.”

Once it has the data on how people are discussing its football content privately, the business could open up the strategy for its newsrooms and markets across the world. “There is excitement about the opportunity dark social presents and how it can help Adidas become the most personal brand, so we expect it to play an increasingly important role in our strategy,” added Alt.

What Adidas is trying to do by moving into dark social is better leverage earned and owned media. It’s all about unlocking the value of sharing based on the notion that private recommendations for a post or a product are a signal of intent.

“The aim is to create truly incredible brand experiences by being unexpected,” added Alt. “We believe this approach will generate the type of conversation that travels into earned media but we’ll also use events and experiences to create content for our own social media platforms.”