Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Monday, January 28, 2008


Over the years adidas-Salomon AG has maintained an international reputation as a premier maker of sporting goods and athletic footwear. It has hired some of the sporting world’s top athletes as spokespersons for its products, and the company has also owned a sponsorship deal with the New York Yankees. Despite its high profile in the industry, however, the company remained the alsoran athletic footwear company in the United States, behind Nike, Reebok, and New Balance. In addition, in 2003 the company reported that its total sales in the United States had dropped 16 percent in the first nine months of that year. Further confounding adidas, which sponsored the 2004 Olympic Summer Games, was the loss of its sponsorship rights to the 2008 Olympics to its competitor Nike.
To gain an edge over the competition and to reenergize its business in the United States, in 2004 adidas-Salomon AG introduced a $50 million brand-marketing campaign—the largest ever undertaken by the company—that included television, print, and Internet ads. Themed ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing,’’ the yearlong global campaign was created for adidas by 180/TBWA, a partnership between 180, an agency based in Amsterdam, and the San Francisco agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. It kicked off with television spots featuring digitally altered footage of boxing legend Muhammad Ali jogging with some of the top athletes of the 1990s and 2000s, such as soccer star David Beckham. Athletes featured in subsequent ads included Ali’s daughter Laila, also a boxer, NBA greats Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan, and tennis champion Justine Henin-Hardenne. The campaign clearly resonated with consumers and earned praise and official recognition from the advertising industry. After it began, the company reported that U.S. sales were up 11 percent compared with the same period the previous year.

Adidas was founded in the late 1920s in Germany by brothers Adi and Rudi Dassler. According to the company, Adi Dassler ‘‘had passion for every sport and a passion to make equipment to help every athlete perform better.’’ In 1928 adidas began equipping Olympic athletes, and it continued to do so over the years. Runner Jesse Owens wore the company’s track shoes during his Olympic competition in 1936, and it was reported that at the 1972 Olympics some 80 percent of the goldmedal-winning athletes wore adidas shoes. Adi Dassler’s innovations included inventing screw-in cleats for soccer shoes and introducing a lightweight sprint spike. When the brothers ended their partnership in the late 1940s, Adi kept the business going and continued to develop sporting equipment intended to enhance the performance of athletes at all levels.
By the 1990s, however, the company was struggling. This was due in part to mismanagement by Adi’s son Horst, who, after Adi died, had taken control of adidas in 1985. Horst’s death in 1987 led to the sale of the company in 1989 to French businessman Bernard Tapie, who filed for bankruptcy soon after purchasing adidas. By 1992 the company’s U.S. market share had taken a nosedive, dropping to 1.9 percent from a high of 70 percent 20 years earlier.
In 1992 another French businessman, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, took the helm at adidas, and by the late 1990s the company was on an upward swing, increasing its business by 74 percent in the United States. But in 2003 adidas, with a 10 percent market share, still lagged behind Nike in sales, and its North American business was again on a downward slide, dropping 16 percent in the first nine months of that year. Herbert Hainer, who had succeeded Louis-Dreyfus as adidas-Salomon president and CEO in 2001, told Advertising Age that the drop in U.S. sales in 2003 was not a one-year problem but rather had been ongoing for several years. Hainer blamed the problem on the fact that adidas had been ‘‘slow to adapt to a shift in demand from many of our customers.’’
In an effort to revitalize its U.S. business, the company refocused its marketing to attract younger consumers and shifted its global marketing functions to the company’s American headquarters in Portland, Oregon. Adidas also implemented a new, more cohesive approach to its international advertising by hiring American agency TBWA/Chiat/Day as its ‘‘global agency network.’’ For the development of the upcoming campaign, TBWA was partnered with 180, an Amsterdam-based shop that had been creating successful ads for adidas since 1998.

The ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ campaign was driven by adidas’s efforts to shift its marketing focus to reach its target audience, 12- to 24-year-old consumers involved in sports. Based on statistics showing that men between the ages of 18 and 34 spent more time online than watching television, adidas also shifted some of its marketing to the Internet. Tara Moss, Internet business developer for adidas America, explained during an interview with Advertising Age, ‘‘We were trying to reach that teen audience that is dedicated to sports. Their apparel and footwear is really necessary to them in their daily lives.’’
Whether the new campaign would actually appeal to its target audience was questioned by some. In an interview with the Oregonian, Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said that adidas needed to make changes in its marketing to be competitive with such companies as Nike and Reebok, who were using highprofile athletes, including NBA stars LeBron James and Yao Ming, respectively, to promote their products. ‘‘The challenge here is whether young teenagers, who are really the hot market for shoes and apparel, resonate with [Muhammad] Ali,’’ he said. ‘‘Many of these kids may never have seen him compete in their lifetime.’’

With a 37 percent market share in the United States, Nike had a firm hold on its position as the number one sporting goods company. In 2004 it introduced one of its most extensive advertising pushes, a campaign that asked the question ‘‘What If?’’ Like the adidas ads that featured star athletes, Nike’s commercials used a roster of top athletic performers. But rather than showing the athletes doing what they did best, the Nike ads depicted athletes participating in sports other than their specialty. For instance, tennis star Serena Williams played beach volleyball, and Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong sparred in a boxing ring. As Nancy Monsarrat, Nike’s director of U.S. advertising, explained to the Washington Times, ‘‘What if Lance Armstrong was given a pair of boxing gloves instead of a bike as a child? Our belief is that a passionate athlete’s drive to win would translate into success in any sport.’’
Reebok International Ltd., the number two maker of athletic shoes in the United States, had employed numerous memorable marketing campaigns, from ‘‘Because Life Is Not a Spectator Sport’’ in the mid-1980s to ‘‘Life Is Short, Play Hard’’ in 1991. In 2003 it introduced its ‘‘Outperform’’ campaign. According to the company, this campaign allowed Reebok ‘‘to educate consumers about our heritage in performance. The first commercial went all the way back to 1895 and the beginnings of the J.W. Foster Company, working our way up to the present day.’’ Reebok increased its international marketing in 2004, starting a major ad campaign in China, where the market for sneakers was $500 million and Reebok’s sales accounted for just $40 million of that. The company’s international presence also was expanded in Europe, with French soccer star Nicolas Anelka serving as spokesman. In Latin America and the United States the brand partnered with pop singer Shakira.

The adidas ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ campaign, created by 180/TBWA, was designed first to reach American consumers and to improve the company’s market share in the United States. Adidas stressed that the campaign was aimed at a global market and that ads would eventually include athletic stars from a variety of sports and regions. ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ was launched in February 2004 with television, print, and Internet advertising. ‘‘Wallscapes’’—huge ads on the sides of buildings—were installed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and Portland. The first television spot featured American boxing icon Muhammad Ali as a young man setting off on one of his legendary long runs; the footage was digitally altered to show him running alongside members of a new generation of athletes, including soccer great David Beckham and NBA star Tracy McGrady, all dressed in adidas merchandise. Meanwhile, Ali’s daughter Hannah narrated, ‘‘Some people listen to themselves, rather than listen to what others say . . . they remind us that once you set out on a path, even though critics may doubt you, it’s okay to believe there is no ‘can’t,’ ‘won’t,’ or ‘impossible.’ They remind us it’s okay to believe impossible is nothing.’’ Another TV ad employed digital effects to depict a young Muhammad Ali sparring with his daughter Laila. In a voice-over Laila dismissed the idea that women should not box, saying, ‘‘Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an opinion.’’
In addition to print ads and TV spots, the campaign, described by the company as a ‘‘fully integrated communication campaign,’’ also included ads and promotions on the adidas website as part of an effort to reach consumers, especially teens, all over the world. For a limited time the ‘‘Laila’’ TV spot was made available on the Yahoo!, MSN, and ESPN home pages. The online aspect of the campaign also featured 20 elite athletes, each telling his or her personal ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ story. Consumers who logged onto the site were encouraged to share their own stories of overcoming the impossible to succeed. The best stories were awarded prizes. Additional television commercials showed past and present Olympic stars interacting with each other. One ad had sprinter Kim Collins on the track encountering the 1936 gold-medal-winner JesseOwens. Another depicted gymnast Nastia Liukin retracing the moves of the legendary Nadia Comaneci, who in 1976 became the first gymnast to complete a perfect-10 Olympic performance. The spot starringHaile Gebrselassie, known as one of the greatest runners of all time, was digitally altered to feature him running a 10,000-meter race in the Long Beach Memorial Stadium against nine competitors: all himself.

As the ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ campaign advanced, it became evident that it was resonating with consumers, and it earned accolades within the marketing arena. The campaign received a Silver EFFIE Award and won a Gold Lion Award at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, and adidas was named the 2004 Marketer of the Year by Footwear News. Ad critics praised the campaign as well. Speaking specifically of the Boxing legend Muhammad Ali ® and daughter, Laila at the unveiling of a billboard featuring their image as part of the launch of Adidas’ campaign ‘‘Impossible is Nothing.’’ ยช JEFF CHRISTENSEN/REUTERS/CORBIS.
commercials created for the U.S. market, Barbara Lippert of Adweek said that the campaign had been ‘‘incredibly successful.’’ She continued, ‘‘Those ads really capture the viewer’s imagination. They are beautifully executed and organic, effectively leveraging the brand’s image. Adidas has made a lot of noise. To come that far, that quickly, is just incredible.’’
The Internet component of the campaign was also successful in reaching the target audience. According to Moss, there was a 125 percent increase in the use of the search term ‘‘adidas’’ on the Yahoo! home page the day the ad featuring Ali and Laila appeared online. The highest number of search requests was from young men aged 13 to 17. Despite the campaign’s success, the NPD Group, an international market-research organization, listed adidas as the number four athletic-footwear brand in the United States—behind Nike, Reebok, and New Balance—the same position it had held in 2003. But based on dollar sales adidas made advances in 2004. According to the company, sales in 2004 were 11 percent higher than in 2003, pushing adidas closer to its proposed goal of doubling its 10 percent U.S. market share and closing the gap between itself and the top company, Nike.