How ADIDAS Went From Sports to Hip-hop

Founded since 1949, ADIDAS is one of the largest sportswear manufacturers in the world. Although ADIDAS is most recognized for its sportswear, over time it has managed to display permanence in the fabric of popular culture. ADIDAS is a community that celebrates difference by uniting consumers with varying interests and passions worldwide. Overall, the respect for eclecticism as the image projected by the brand is mutually understood and reciprocated by consumers. The mutual embrace of eclecticism between the brand and its consumers was made possible after Run DMC appropriated ADIDAS products and initiated the formation of a popular brand community that admires the ADIDAS lifestyle in the realms of sports, fashion, pop culture, and hip-hop. Run DMC played a fundamental role in establishing ADIDAS as an iconic brand by earning the brand’s acceptance in popular culture.

Originally, the ADIDAS community was exclusively for athletes when the brand started in 1949. After the 1954 World Cup, ADIDAS footwear gained recognition. By 1967, the company expanded to include apparel. The merge of arts and sports happened in 1986 when hip-hop group Run DMC ignited ADIDAS sneaker culture by creating the song “My ADIDAS.” The endorsement by rap legends helped position the brand as a staple in urban culture and fashion. The diversity that ADIDAS symbolizes is the byproduct of a brand having gone viral unexpectedly. Without the genuine support from Run DMC, ADIDAS would probably be solely a community for athletes. The consumer community drives the messaging of inclusivity and eclecticism as much as the brand does; ADIDAS takes advantage of the meanings that were organically attached since Run DMC and cultivated over time.

(How Run DMC influenced an ADIDAS generation)

Prior to the Run DMC ADIDAS fad, the presence and circulation of a representation, in this case ADIDAS products, by the maker told nothing about what ADIDAS was to its users. The brand had been operating under the sole assumption that only athletes consumed their products. However, Run DMC appropriated  ADIDAS products, and like a rented apartment they transformed another person’s property into a borrowed space; this borrowed property was outfitted with meanings provided by Run DMC (De Certeau  xxi). After acknowledging the great manipulation by users, such as Run DMC and hip-hoppers, ADIDAS was able to identify the difference between the production of the image and the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilization (De Certeau xiii). As a result, ADIDAS embraced the identity and community that resulted from this secondary production, and shifted their messaging to include this new segment.

As much as Run DMC’s enduring promotion of ADIDAS was beneficial for the brand, the use of ADIDAS products helped Run DMC in their self-branding practices as well. In fact, ADIDAS was instrumental for Run DMC to successfully brand itself. “The practice of self-branding is […] a necessary strategy for success in an increasingly complex corporate world” (Hearn 198). Through self-commodification Run DMC used ADIDAS for its desired goods in order to create a stable identity and pursue an artificially framed style of life (Hearn 199). As a brand, Run DMC had the power to be a value-generating source that used the consumer experience in the interest of capital accumulation (Hearn 200). By constructing their identity and brand using ADIDAS products to gain cultural capital, Run DMC experienced capital gains as well.

Targeting Consumers Across the Cultural Spectrum

To maintain its clout in these diverse categories, ADIDAS continually unites sports and pop culture by featuring athletes and pop icons such as Katy Perry, David Beckham, and Derrick Rose in its campaigns. This effort to expand the brand’s relevance is due to a global brand strategy, fusing sports, music, and fashion across different cultures and lifestyles. Thereby, ADIDAS’ ideal consumer is cultured and multifaceted; ideal ADIDAS consumers live in different countries, speak different languages, enjoy different hobbies, but are universally connected through their love for ADIDAS. Further describing the essence of the brand, Patrik Nilsson, President of ADIDAS America affirms: “Today’s consumers are not one-dimensional. They live across the cultural spectrum and that’s where ADIDAS has its edge. The ADIDAS brand extends beyond sports and […] celebrates this breadth of passion from athletes, musicians, artists and beyond.”

In order to reach across consumer segments, ADIDAS goes beyond mass marketing practices. Originally, the company assumed that their customers were athletes, but after conducting research with an anthropological approach, spending 24 hours with several consumers, they found that many were training for fitness as part of their lifestyle. Thus, to better understand consumers, the company conducts anthropological research as a means of identifying and understanding consumers’ buying habits, their lifestyles, and their motivations for doing sports.

Ultimately, the ideal consumer embraces a mix of interests and passions. ADIDAS communicates this message through their ad campaigns, using 30 to 60 second TV commercials and extended online versions. Furthermore, ADIDAS hosts content on social media platforms to get fans to continue the conversation surrounding campaigns. For example, in 2011, ADIDAS asked fans to submit photos of themselves online in response to the company’s ‘All ADIDAS’ campaign for a chance to be in a commercial during the MTV Movie Awards. Below is a promotional image from the ‘All ADIDAS’ campaign, which encompasses the entire brand; the campaign includes celebrities, athletes, and regular people who literally have different passions, but have ADIDAS in common. The ideal consumer would identify with at least one of the pictures below, if not all of them. The message that is intended to resonate with consumers is: regardless of whether you are a fan of sports or music, you aspire for happiness, victory, and bliss, which is portrayed below.

Those aspirations are part of the ADIDAS lifestyle. Thus, the image below isn’t merely promoting products or celebrities, it is promoting an entire way of life that promises consumers success when they experience ADIDAS. The brand  encourages the pursuit of an expressive and liberated lifestyle that can be achieved through the use of its products. However, the ADIDAS lifestyle isn’t simply adopted, the brand and its consumers are on a mutual journey to make lifestyle a life project, displaying individuality and style in the assemblage of goods, clothes, and experiences (Lury 95). Through its commitment to fashion, ADIDAS has managed to be at the forefront of today’s rapid transformations of style. The popularization of new avante-garde ADIDAS styles is due impart to the merge with pop culture that was made possible by Run DMC. The interplay between popular style and avante-garde contributed  towards the breakdown of divisions between high culture and popular culture, the old and the new, the nostalgic and the futuristic, a set of breakdowns which characterized postmodern culture (Lury 95-96).

(All ADIDAS Campaign in 2011)

Unlike its direct competitors, Nike and Puma, ADIDAS spends less revenue on expensive athlete endorsements and marketing. Instead, ADIDAS has managed to get unpaid mention in rappers’ songs and collaborate with popular designers on projects. For example, ADIDAS by Stella McCartney appeared in London Fashion Week; the collaboration was a mix of performance clothing and high fashion. Integrating athleticism and fashion is a signature of ADIDAS that helps maintain its relevance. This particular strategy is directed at the consumer segment that is more apt to have interests other than sports. Similar strategies help ADIDAS appeal to various segments that have no connection to athletics, which is how the brand is able to attract such a broad spectrum of consumers.

Despite appealing to many different people, the sportswear company has a higher risk of failing among the unathletic. ADIDAS fashion apparel such as high-heeled sneakers helps include those who are not athletically inclined. In China where consumers don’t play as much sports as the western countries, the challenge for the sports brand is to reach the leisure market without compromising their sports positioning. Sports brands tend to ignore women, which is an influential group that ADIDAS targets in emerging global markets like China. By adjusting campaigns to reflect Asian ideals of beauty, ADIDAS is expected to be more successful than Nike whose messaging is all about performance and is driven by American sports stars like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant.

Different markets and consumer segments have different needs and ideals. ADIDAS recognizes those differences and finds new ways of accommodating different consumers, promoting inclusivity instead of exclusivity. Despite the challenges of being a global sports brand and taking on so many different markets, ADIDAS is unmatched by any other sports brand in terms of versatility.

Social Media: Where Consumers Live the ADIDAS Dream

Social media platforms house the diverse meanings that consumers have attached to the brand ADIDAS: culture, art, sport, and fashion. Pinterest best demonstrates the alignment of the brand message with consumer engagement. It is a graphic display of the entire community landscape, representing how ADIDAS is woven into the universal fabric of life. The whole spectrum of consumer posts on Pinterest looks as though it could fit into any given ADIDAS campaign, showing that ADIDAS’ marketing and advertising is representative of the community. In fact, the majority, if not all, of the pins are produced by consumers; the few ad images appear to be the same style as those that are consumer generated. On Pinterest, consumers express their love for the brand and share pictures of products they love and wish they owned. There is a clear fusion of sports, art, and lifestyle as consumers share their adoration. The lack of pictures of celebrities wearing ADIDAS reveals a pure connection consumers have with ADIDAS products and its values—freedom of expression through art, sports, and fashion.

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(Pinned ADIDAS images, hard to tell the difference between fan art and ads, if there is a difference at all)

Unlike Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter are where consumers critique the brand more severely. With the rise of sneaker culture, consumers have relied on YouTube as a preferred medium to deliver in depth product reviews. KickGenius, a respected YouTube vlogger, provides performance reviews of sneakers where he does several basketball drills and analyzes the performance of the sneakers. Recently, he posted a review of the Adidas Crazy Quick shoe, which garnered 218, 250 views. Despite admitting that the Adidas Crazy Quick shoe was better than he expected, KickGenius revealed issues with its durability.

Nike Versus ADIDAS

Durability and quality are the major concerns that consumers have expressed on Twitter and YouTube. Despite great marketing and advertising tactics, ADIDAS has yet to overcome its reputation for subpar products. Aside from frustrations with product quality, consumers also voice their negative criticisms of the athletes who represent ADIDAS. For example, @swachbarkley tweeted, “that’s what happens when you’re sponsored by ADIDAS smfh #injurynation.” Many like @swachbarkley correlate the number of athletes sponsored by ADIDAS who have been injured to the poor quality of the products.  This conflicting sentiment online leaves an opportunity for people to perpetuate the rivalry between ADIDAS and NIKE, its main competitor. Especially on Twitter, consumers poll whether NIKE or ADIDAS is the better brand.

Despite the attitude that you must choose either NIKE or ADIDAS, many consumers show an appreciation for both brands. In fact, in celebrity hauls and sneaker interviews on YouTube, celebrities such as Timothy De La Ghetto, Macklemore, and Juelz Santana praise specific ADIDAS products in addition to products of competing brands. ADIDAS is able to win the respect and validation from consumers who are loyal to other brands. By offering products that are good enough to overcome the loyalty consumers have for other brands, ADIDAS is increasing the reach and exposure of its messaging, and recruiting new members to its community.

Within the community, ADIDAS is challenged by the perception that NIKE is better because of its longstanding endorsements with more popular athletes and celebrities such as Michael Jordan, Lebron James, and Kobe Bryant. Consumers have noticed ADIDAS’ attempts to improve its roster of collaborators to win over NIKE loyalists. For example, Kanye West who has exclusively created shoes with NIKE has recently signed a contract to collaborate with ADIDAS. West’s switch to ADIDAS has generated controversy among brand citizens.

(Michael Jordan was an ADIDAS loyalist, but chose the NIKE endorsement)

Ultimately the ADIDAS consumer community is divided.  There are those who admire the brand and revel in its culture.  Others turn the Internet into a digital forum  to comparatively analyze ADIDAS and its products. Either way, the battle of the brands continues.

ADIDAS is more than its products–it is a history of meaning that is filled with customer experiences (Lury 149). Because it is valued for what it symbolizes as much as what it sells, ADIDAS has earned its place as an iconic brand. Since its inception as an iconic brand, the help from Run DMC, the stories, and the ideals of the brand build the relationship between ADIDAS and its consumers because of their perceived identity value. Those stories act as channels of self-expression, and are valuable to consumers in constructing their identities (Lury 150). ADIDAS is an iconic brand because of its successful embodiment of the ideals its consumers admire and its help in allowing people to express who they want to be.

Works Cited
De Certeau, Michel. Practice of Everyday Life.: University of California, 2011. Print.
Hearn, Alison. “`Meat, Mask, Burden` : Probing the Contours of the Branded `self`.” Journal of Consumer Culture (2008).
Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers UP, 2011. Print.
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