Adidas’ dark social experiment is darker than initially thought

Adidas

Adidas launched its dark social experiments three months ago with ambitious plans, but so far has no “major learnings”, indicating user engagement is harder to track than it initially thought.

Instead, the brand is focusing its attention around on-the-day learning; listening to users, how they tick, what they like what they don’t like, what motivates them, how they are culturally different - and using these learnings to gain a deeper understanding of its key target consumers.

It is the first time the brand has had one-to-one access with its hard-to-reach consumers, and taps into its ambition to become “the most personal brand”.

To track the untrackable, Adidas is using WhatsApp to build hyper local communities in cities across the world, in what it dubs dedicated ‘squads’. These ‘squads’ initially launched Berlin, London, Paris, Milan and Stockholm and went global in July.

The Drum caught up with Florian Alt, senior director of global brand communications at Adidas, at the Festival of Marketing to figure out how the brand’s ambitions have changed. The idea, Alt said, is to get to the point when “you are no longer building the engagement but maintaining the engagement”.

To do this, ‘squads’ needs to be picked up by enough consumers to call it a “true relationship”, where the consumers don’t see it as a “marketing gag” but something “beneficial”, he said.

“Then I think we can really go a level deeper and offer them experiences, products, access to events that they really want to have and co-create together with us. The next step is building the property into something where the kids stand outside and say ‘what do I have to do to be a part of that squad’,” he added.

Social media, and more specifically dark social, has a role to play for brands hoping to be "much more laser-focused and targeted to the people you are speaking to", Alt said. That said, he believes there is still a place for traditional advertising "where you need to generate big reach and big hype or if you want to make a brand statement".

He warned brands against using dark social to send persistent product messages, saying "kids would recognise what you are doing and probably leave the group".

"It is not the purpose to sell products", he added.

Instead, he advised brands to think of dark social not as the hard sale but about building a relationship, maintaining it and making sure there is something in there for both parties.

Adidas has previously said that Snapchat has better retention than Youtube, but Alt believes Snapchat is "a dark social platform of sorts", because "you can't really understand the metrics behind it so it is hard to measure and compare". This versus something like Youtube "which is very openly sharing where we can understand the stats".

Instagram Stories versus Snapchat- how do you decide?

They are definitely rivaling and competing, if you were to decide you do both you would need to have a strategy with what you do on Instagram versus Snapchat. Just doing the same story twice on both channels will probably not cut the chase because most kids will be using both platforms. If you were going for both you would probably need a bespoke rule for Instagram does for you as a brand versus what Snapchat’s role is.

What impact has Pogba’s return to Manchester United had on the brand so far?

I would by lying if I said it hadn’t had an impact on the brand. It is one of those things where all the stars have lined up for us as a brand. We had the player, he is an Adidas player, Manchester United is our club, and we had the right piece of content at the right time ready to go out. This Pogba Stormzy video created a massive buzz around him joining which was good for the brand.

And I do believe Pogba is the perfect representation of what we consider at Adidas as a creator. He is a true creator on the pitch when he plays football but also off the pitch. By definition of what the brand Adidas says, what our target consumers are, he is the perfect incarnation of that. We can be very lucky he is with our brand.

What opportunities do you see around athletes building their own owned media channels rather than just having to rely on rights owners?

I think they should build their own channels. When we speak about authenticity and making sure it comes across real, then it is vital that the athletes have their own social media channels as well. Where they then can also push messages for sponsors and brands that they are associated with. It needs to be in the right environment, and the right amount. For them it would be a failure if they don’t have social media comms these days.

Get the Newsletter

Keep up to date with the latest news and insights.

Subscribe

Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

All by Jessica