Faced with the challenges of keeping its cool amid mass exposure, Adidas Originals has retooled its measurement strategy to successfully commercialise its brand purpose and retain its authenticity.
Adidas Originals has come a long way since its birth in 2001, now responsible for the bulk of the company’s lifestyle business and boasting a social media army of more than 30 million fans worldwide.
Yet this meteoric rise from niche youth culture voice to prominent sportswear player is not without its commercial obstacles. Speaking at The Drum’s Digital Convergence conference earlier this week (25 February), Alexander Matt, senior director of global brand communications for Adidas Originals, said it feels the pressure to preserve its cool factor as its reach swells.
Commercialising brand purpose
“We’re now present in China, North America and Western Europe, so we’ve gone from this opinion leading, influential brand to a very commercial brand,” he added. "That scale comes with its own pressures to stay cool and has raised expectations from our fans the world over.”
In response to those expectations, Matt retooled the focus of the brand’s marketing a year ago so that it was no longer about trying to grow its fanbase but rather what it could do with them. “When I started my job three years ago we did a big consumer research project and realised that a message chain was happening in the digital world so we looked not only at our marketing but [our business] strategies too.”
A complex measurement platform was formed to track the shift internally, pulling away from traditional KPIs to rely heavily on social media-based metrics. Advocacy and visibility are the two pillars grounding the measures in sentiment, community size, engagement rates, conversation volume and reach. The measures are complemented by broader, global targets around net promoter scores, brand momentum and spontaneous purchase intent.
“These KPIs aren’t the full story to how we now measure Originals, because we need to keep some parts secret, though they give us a good feeling about how we’re progressing as a brand,” said Matt. “We’ve just established [the measures] so we can’t even look back a year ago. Once it’s fully up to speed then things will be easier.”
Matt’s “good feeling” about Originals’ brand health stems from a strong start to the year that has seen its Trefoil logo ever present in pop culture, whether it was at the Grammy Awards with Pharrell Williams or on a fashion catwalk with Kanye West. Both stars were brought in as part of a revamp of the brand’s partnership program that has whittled down the number of celebrities it works with to those who have “creative courage”.
It has meant relinquishing a lot more creative control than the brand is used to, admitted Matt. However, the buzz for a product like West’s personally designed Yeezy Boost trainers, not matter how devisive they proved to be, got people talking about the brand on an unprecedented scale.
The change is encapsulated in an upcoming campaign with Williams that sees 50 different hues of the Superstar sneaker selected by him go on sale next month. Matt said: “It might sound like a simple thing but it’s a massive undertaking for us. How do you represent a product like that in stores worldwide so that they’re readily available in all the colours and sizes. We worked on this idea for a year and I’m curious to see how people respond to it.”
The strategy’s impact on product also stretches to its overarching release plans. Whereas Originals has built its name on updating classic sneakers like the Stan Smith or the Superstar, now it plans to push its own designs to show that it is progressive.
“We want to create products differently,” said Matt. “Last year we started to come up with totally new designs which are inspired by the past but more progressive in terms of look. They don’t look like a classic Adidas Original shoe anymore.”
Adidas Originals' editorial-led approach to marketing
And the approach appears to be paying off. Sales of the first major new product the ZX are around 2 million each quarter, becoming one of the top sellers on the Adidas online shop. The sneaker’s popularity of Originals return to growth last year, after missed fashion trends the year before, sapped momentum in key markets.
Matt attributed the reversal of fortunes to a spike in awareness for the brand that has flowed from an “editorial led approach”. He means that rather than pushing product blatantly in its marketing, there’s more subtely to its efforts now where the focus has returned to sparking conversation about youth culture.
None more so is the change prevalent than in the latest Superstar campaign. Backed by Williams and West alongside Rita Ora and David Beckham, the ads aim to thrust the iconic sneaker back into the limelight, featuring the famous faces questioning what it means to be a superstar.
Matt said: “Back in the 80s when street culture first started the real superstars were worn by all these people who created something; They had something to say. Today, these people are the ones who have the most likes. They are the ones in social media making fashion accessible for everyone.
‘Through the blurring worlds of digital and analogue our consumers can now pick not just from the likes of Nike and Converse but also the smaller players who can act much more tactically and come up with disruptive ideas. It means we have to talk differently about our brand purpose.”
Born from the embers of hip-hop’s rise in the 80s, the company’s never-ending love affair with street culture is showing no signs of slowing.