Adidas enlists China’s booming running market to spread sustainability message

Adidas China is leveraging consumers passion for running to spread environmental message

Adidas is using China’s new-found passion for running to help educate consumers about the environment through its latest collaboration with Parley For The Oceans.

The brand recently hosted a four-week-long global running initiative, Run For The Oceans, which incorporated 13 running events in cities around the world with a goal to get 1 million runners worldwide to run a combined 5 million kilometres. The event aimed to raise awareness and money to help fight marine plastic pollution with Adidas donating $1m to the cause.

The event, which achieved a total of 12.4 million kilometres globally, attracted 555,426 registered runners in China, who together contributed almost 4.5 million kilometres.

Gavin Lum, brand communications director of Adidas’ Running category, told The Drum, the result demonstrates the growth and passion for running in China.

“Running has come a long way in the last 20 years. Even four or five years ago running was a very poor sport in China and you would see people running in loafers or slippers. Now, the Chinese running consumer is a lot more sophisticated and savvy, and is very passionate about running,” says Lum.

While Chinese consumers love of running is a huge driver behind the countries huge participation in the global event, it is also helping to generate awareness of the issues of ocean pollution.

“For us in China, we need to do more education in this part of the world, especially because a lot of our people are not exposed to the ocean environment."

Lum says the marketing of the Parley collaboration requires a stronger educational element than is necessary for other markets, in a bid to help Chinese consumers better understand the issues.

“We do a lot to educate communities in China about the importance of conserving the environment. We are also seeing a lot more emphasis and efforts from other authorities in China to stop the air pollution and to protect the environment, so this is very good timing for us to ride on the sentiment.”

“There is a growing interest from people to try and do more across society, so this is a good time for us to share this message.”

This consumer education is an important piece of the puzzle, China remains Adidas’ best performing market globally and has consistently reported strong quarterly growth for the last two years.

It is therefore crucial that sales of the higher priced Parley products, which are made from recycled plastics that have been removed from the ocean, perform well in China. However, Lum says mass sales are not the objective.

“The product is priced a bit higher because the products are harder to make and the materials are rare. We are not exactly trying to achieve scale from the sales of the product, it’s about demonstrating sustainability and meeting the appetites of consumers who want to do their part for sustainability. These consumers are happy to pay more for a premium product that represents a commitment to save the oceans and fight against pollution.”

“In terms of our Parley collaboration, we want to ride on the growing passion for conserving the environment and tie this back to empowering people to do their part to help.”

Lum says the Parley partnership is one of the brand’s biggest initiatives globally and the Run for the Oceans event has become the brand’s biggest global running movement.

“At Adidas, we stand for two things: innovation and sustainability, and we are very serious about these two things. We aim to establish a point of view and to continue to innovate in our products and drive the fight for sustainability.

"Parley is an initiative that we are very serious about, and that is why Run for the Oceans has a lot of support globally. It combines our love for sport and running and our love for product innovation and sustainability.

“We pride ourselves on innovating our products and continuing to push the boundaries for innovation and new products and technology for the market. Parley is a testament to how we looked at our processing to work out how we could reuse marine plastics to reproduce different elements of the shoe and we are very proud of this partnership.”

In a bid to engage consumers with the event, Adidas enlisted actor, celebrity and avid runner Li Chen. Chen, who has featured on the Chinese version of the program Running Man and is also a UN ambassador for the environment in China, commands a huge social media following, which Adidas was keen to tap into.

“As a brand, we like to look for brand ambassadors and endorsers who have a genuine passion for sport and running. [Chen] is very passionate about running and he is also socially invested in fighting pollution in China. He will appear in a lot of our advertising as well as kicking off the run and using his social channels to recruit fans from his community,” says Lum.

While globally Adidas employed its AR (Adidas Running) app to recruit runners and log their kilometres, in China, it partnered with popular running app Joyrun to engage runners. It also mobilised the “Adidas Brand Family” with its various Chinese brand ambassadors, athletes and influencers sharing messages with their communities of fans to encourage them to get involved.

China hosted two running events in Shanghai and Chengdu attended by Chen, along with a host of local celebrities including former volleyball player Hui Ruo Qi and swimming champion Ning Zhe Tao.

Lum says mobilising runners online and integrating the online experience with the offline experience is crucial for Chinese consumers.

“Running is not a communal activity like basketball or football, it is still a solo sport so you rely a lot more on technology to help you find running communities and connect with people through online. In China, consumers are very savvy and use technology to find the right communities, and we see a lot of hunger for training programs and communities online. The online and offline worlds are equally important for a runner in China and that is why it is important to create a strong ecosystem for this.”

In addition to partnering with Joyrun, Adidas also uses WeChat and Weibo to connect with its communities of runners. WeChat features scores of running communities hosted by the brand’s running champions, as well as a huge Weibo following where it shares news and updates about the brand.

“These communities are so important to us, and it’s here that runners create friendships and different ways to run and they share their tastes. These consumers and their tastes are growing a lot more mature and we need to keep engaging with them,” says Lum.

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