Adidas and Paul Pogba point to a new advertising era

Yesterday a short video clip was posted, and subsequently taken down, but not before it had spread around the world in a matter of minutes. The content of this clip may well be the new instructional manual for adland’s future and points to new ways of marketing to new audiences on social media.

Adidas has punched pretty heavily of late with all sorts of guerrilla-like tactics to support its ‘First never follows’ platform. It deploys a huge roster of talent too, from icons like David Beckham to a global grime superstar like Stormzy. As such, the protracted transfer this summer of the world’s hottest footballer, Paul Pogba, who is also in the Adidas stable, back to Manchester United, has provided an unprecedented opportunity. And boy has Adidas taken it.

When stars align like this, you need to be agile and confident in equal measure. Not many brands have ever capitalised seemingly so well. The Pogba deal is the biggest of the summer and has led to a “will he, or won’t he?” soap opera across social media. With this brief clip, Adidas effectively announced the arrival of Paul Pogba from Juventus through a one-off rap by Stormzy. Corporate stage-managed clutter this certainly isn’t but it does point towards an era where clever brands and celebrities use events as marketing exercises in their own right.

Within the mini film, Paul Pogba dances and the Adidas United shirt proudly has his name emblazoned on the back. This is a lesson in confident collaboration. The brand is not wary of clashing culture or mixing up its talent in appropriate ways. The Pogba saga shows that football and music go hand in hand, and Adidas has been particularly astute to notice the current symbiotic relationship between grime and British football. This is something that Copa90 has leveraged too, using grime artists on shows like Fifa and Chill with grime ‘celebrity’ talent Poet & Vuj heading up this particular show.

Adidas, though, arguably had more to lose, and, instead of meeting a backlash from uninitiated fans of the genre, it received plaudits and acclaim from social media followers for using someone like Stormzy in this way. The brand has smashed together Stormzy with Pogba, grime music with superstar footballers, in the marketing equivalent of a particle accelerator. And what emerges from this perfect storm is a cool communications mix, which you simply can’t script.

Stormzy uploaded the video then deleted it again, leading to hysteria and the obvious (and desired) effect of people trying to discover this stolen moment, this lost secret. His own audience latched on to what they saw and kickstarted the hyperbole all over again. Just as football fans around the world thought they had grown tired of this summer’s longest transfer saga, the freshness of this approach made his sit up and become eager to spill our love through social.

The brilliance of it all makes you wonder openly if this transfer was indeed wrapped up months ago, and it is in fact entirely an Adidas brand play to elongate the process to enable them to drop teasers, sneak peaks, and ultimate reveals using their roster of amazing talent. Given Adidas’s kit deal with Manchester United, it would be a work of genius at management level to insist on a new clause allowing the brand to have communicative control of transfer news too.

For those people sat in their advertising agencies working on a brief using a process born out of the Mad Men era, this urges you to tear up those handbooks right now. The new manual has just been published, so go have a look.

James Kirkham is head of Copa90 and chief strategy officer for Bigballs Media Europe. He tweets @spoonybear

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