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‘Joy, optimism and resilience’ – how Adidas unified its message in sports’ darkest hour

Back in March, Adidas was quick out of the gate to launch a hype film acknowledging the pandemic, followed by a full-scale campaign that has been looking forward with optimism to the sporting world’s long-awaited return to normality. The Drum catches up with its global head of brand comms to find out how the brand has pulled off a mammoth global push in a crisis.

In 2020, brands have been forced to launch campaigns under epic restrictions, working across agencies, countries and continents to connect with customers.

Adidas is no exception. As lockdown restrictions sent individuals and economies into shock across the globe, it launched an ambitious and optimistic global campaign hailing an eventual return to sporting events.

‘Ready for Sport’, created alongside Iris, has been running since April. Initially, it took the form of a brave hype film acknowledging the coronavirus crisis, as well as its impact on athletes and sports fans with huge scale events such as Tokyo 2020, the Premier League and more cancelled.

In spring, the initial hero ad – an open-sourced film featuring Adidas’s ’Hometeam’ community of 2500 athletes and creators – looked forward to the world’s return to exercising outdoors, from playing football to watching professionals on the small screen.

Garnering over 160m views to date, the film served as the jumping-off point for what would become the global, unifying brand platform, ‘Ready For Sport’, under which all Adidas brand categories would align to in 2020.

Adidas’s global head of brand comms, Fabio Tambosi, has been overseeing the execution and delivery of the campaign. At the start of lockdown, his remit was to oversee sports apparel and women’s marketing. However, the pandemic has seen his title shift to include planning and activation across the entire brand.

“Once everything went into lockdown, I reached out to Iris and we each knew that, at some point, the lights were going to go back on for brands,” he says.

An ‘optimistic’ approach

In April, Adidas had frozen ad spend. At the high point of the worldwide lockdown measures in the same month, almost all its stores outside APAC (so more than 70% of the company’s global store fleet) were closed, presenting an extraordinary sales and visibility challenges for the sports giant.

Despite this, Adidas was still consulting with Iris every week. No big ideas were being pitched, just discussions around what the brand would do when marketing investment resumed.

“We ran Zoom sessions with customers around the world too. We weren’t trying to crack an idea, we were just listening to consumers. People told us that they were missing the highs and lows of sport and the community aspect of it.

“And then, we saw this huge boom in home fitness across the world. And when we were going back and forth about the creative, we decided not to hold a rearview mirror up to consumers, but instead use our core belief that sport can change the world and bring three things to people: joy, optimism and resilience.”

The result was the initial ‘Ready For Sport’ push, released exclusively by Adidas employees who had an exclusive 24-hour window to post the launch film on their social media channels. In doing this, staff were encouraged to mention what they were “ready for” in real life, says Tambosi. Submissions ranged from what they were looking forward to, to simply appreciating a new-found experience.

“1,600 of our employees posted the film before our brand posted anything, then we went out. That has showed us that the real heroes of our brand are our people. We put zero media behind it and it gave us hundreds of millions of views and drove traffic. It’s a new way of gaining visibility.“

The ‘most impactful’ campaign in Adidas’s history

The next stage of the campaign saw the birth of an 18-part, unscripted online docuseries, with an episode launching each week across Instagram and YouTube.

The schedule featured famous Adidas athletes in categories including basketball, women’s training, US football, soccer, running and more. Initially, the series explored the specific athlete insights around the Covid-19 crisis, before pivoting to reflect athletes’ sentiments surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement.

Iris’s team worked remotely across the world to produce “three months of relentless storytelling” with many moving parts.

In August, the series culminated in a 60-second blockbuster TV ad, ‘The Anthem‘, which ran globally across 14 markets and hammered home an inspirational message of hope that sport would return – even though there’s so strict timeline right now as to when.

‘Ready For Sport’ also came to life in physical and digital retail, global OOH and digital media. In addition, performance of the campaign has been well beyond target.

“I can’t disclose actual numbers, but it has been one of the most impactful and highest viewed campaigns in our brand history,” says Tambosi. “Our brand sentiment right now is super hot. We also measured awareness, engagement and traffic to our website.”

This will be welcome news to the business, which reported that 83% of its stores were again operational by June, albeit partly with reduced hours. Despite e-commerce sales growing by 93% in the three months to August, Adidas still posted a 35% year-on-year drop to profits.

Tambosi is coy about what the brand has coming down the tracks from a marketing perspective over the next 12 months. “Right now we’re focusing on finishing 2020.”