Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Monday, January 28, 2008


After more than a decade of dismal performance worldwide and a 1995 company relaunch by a group of international investors, the Germany-based athletic-footwear-and-apparel brand adidas (the official company name became adidas-Salomon AG after a 1997 merger with French sports-equipment maker Salomon) set its sights on rebuilding its share of the U.S. market. It dramatically raised its marketing profile in the United States and sought partnerships and licensing agreements. One such agreement, with the New York Yankees, caused controversy among other members of the Major League Baseball association. The partnership also resulted in a modestly scaled yet successful advertising campaign focusing on the nature of that baseball team’s fans. ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ was developed by the San Francisco ad agency Leagas Delaney. It began during the 1997 baseball season and also ran during the following season, leveraging an estimated $1 million annual budget. The campaign was headlined by black-and-white TV and cinema spots as well as print and outdoor support, all of which revolved around five out-of-shape Yankee fans who painted letters on their bare chests so that collectively they spelled ‘‘YANKS.’’ The TV spots ran primarily in the New York area, but they also received national exposure during postseason broadcasts of Yankees games. The campaign was a hit with Yankee fans and New Yorkers. The five principal characters from the TV spots became local celebrities, and their fictional exploits were well received by advertising-industry critics. ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ won a Silver Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival and a silver and two bronze Clios, among other awards. Even though it was not designed to drive national adidas sales, the campaign corresponded with a period of sustained profit and market-share increases.

As adidas kicked off its ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ advertising campaign, the company did not forget some of New York City’s youngest athletes and perhaps its future champions. The company announced plans to partner with the city’s Police Athletic League (PAL) to support boxing and basketball programs for boys and girls. Offering words of encouragement to kids and lending support for the proposed partnership, Laila Ali, who was featured in some of the ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ ads with her father, boxing legend Muhammad Ali, said during an interview (at the program’s unveiling at the PAL center in Harlem), ‘‘A lot of people told me I shouldn’t go into boxing. If I had listened to them, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s very important for you to follow your dreams. You really can’t let anyone decide your future for you.’’

Strong in the 1970s, adidas practically disappeared in the United States in the 1980s and early ‘90s. The German sports-shoe company, once the category leader with a 70 percent U.S. market share, slid completely out of the top four spots, down to a 2 percent share in 1993. Name recognition was low, and it was not viewed as a highquality product. Fortune magazine said that by 1993 the company was losing $100 million a year. During those same years Nike had become the dominant athletic-shoe manufacturer on the strength of its powerful, sustained marketing effort. At adidas’s low point an international group of investors led by Frenchman Robert Louis-Dreyfus bought the company and revamped it. It went public in November 1995.
Louis-Dreyfus fired the German senior management staff, closed down high-cost factories, and doubled spending on marketing (the marketing budget was set at 6 percent of the sales revenue in 1993). As a result, by 1997 sales had doubled, and Louis-Dreyfus kept the marketing budget at 12.5 percent of revenue. Ad agency Leagas Delaney, which previously had been creating a single commercial per year for adidas, was by 1997 making 40 spots and spending close to $20 million in the United States on advertising.
The resurgence took adidas past Fila to number three in the U.S. athletic-footwear-and-apparel market. Much of the rebound was built on a huge increase in adidas’s apparel business. To further enhance this growth, adidas bought French sports-equipment maker Salomon in September 1997. The move balanced the company’s geographic reach and provided better insulation against swings in fashion and sales downturns in one region or country. ‘‘The move gives [a]didas a leg up on Nike in one of its final frontiers for growth,’’ said Jeff Jensen of Advertising Age.
Another key marketing decision helped lead to the ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ campaign. After Nike signed a sponsorship agreement with the National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys, adidas looked for similar opportunities. The company won the Yankee sponsorship by acting quickly;
Nike and Reebok received calls from the Yankees about sponsorship, but adidas won by listening and moving fast, according to the Yankees’ vice president for business affairs, Derek Schiller. The baseball team also accepted partial payment of the sponsorship agreement in the purchase of adidas stock. ‘‘The Yankees and Adidas personify tradition and performance. Everyone knows who the Yankees are. Around the world. It’s a great relationship for both parties,’’ explained Sam Rothman, account manager at Leagas Delaney. The sponsorship agreement, however, immediately generated controversy. Major League Baseball (MLB) maintained that the deal violated the league’s licensing policy. The Yankees and adidas responded by suing all of the other MLB teams as well as some leaders of the organization, claiming that these parties had disrupted a legitimate business partnership.

In the late 1990s the major competitors in the athleticshoe market received the bulk of their sales from young males, many of whom bought multiple (often five to six) pairs of athletic shoes each year. Adidas’s overall core market was the 14- to 18-year-old elite athlete, but the ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ campaign strictly targeted Yankee baseball fans. For the Yankee sponsorship to be of the most value to adidas, the company needed to build a strong association with the club in the minds of its fans. Leagas Delaney said that it was not an intensely researched campaign with focus groups, statistics, or scientific analysis. Instead the agency built the spots informally. Yankee fans were known to be passionate about their team. And the Yankee franchise had the proudest tradition in baseball, a long history, and more glory years than any other major U.S. sports team.
The agency chose the five actors who played the Yankee fans based on their abilities to project a New York attitude—an attitude that indicated, ‘‘Let’s get it done with full gusto.’’ Campaign success hinged on accurately portraying the male New York Yankee fan yet doing so in a humorous, exaggerated way.

Since the 1980s Nike had dominated the athletic-footwear-and-apparel category. With its ubiquitous swoosh logo, Nike owned 47 percent of the 1997 U.S. athleticfootwear market. Nike’s hold on the category was so strong it redefined advertising for the entire category, emphasizing brash confidence, endorsers, the soft sell, and cinematic savvy. In 1997 Nike overhauled its longstanding, world-famous ‘‘Just Do It’’ campaign as a new campaign titled ‘‘I Can.’’
Even with such a dominant player, because of its growth the market continued to present a strong attraction to other companies. Athletic shoes enjoyed solid demand in the United States, and a steady economy and rapid rollouts of new styles that kept capturing new sales spurred their popularity. Apparel other than footwear was another way competitors increased their sales and profits. For several years Reebok, the number two competitor with 21 percent of the U.S. athletic-footwear market, ran ads similar to Nike’s (for example, the ‘‘Reebok Lets U.B.U.’’ campaign). Reebok tried to counter Nike’s staple of star athletes, such as basketball’s Michael Jordan, with its own superstars (Shaquille O’Neal). Reebok later dropped O’Neal and tried to exploit the anti-Nike sentiment.

Leagas Delaney account manager Sam Rothman paraphrased the sentiments of art director Peter Nicholson and copywriter Scott Wild, the creative minds behind the ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ campaign. ‘‘We shot the ‘Yankee Fans’ ads for 1998 at Yankee Stadium. They were playing the Braves. We kept the Yankee Fans around and had them do personal appearances. We had them sitting in the stands watching the game. When they were shown on the JumboTron (the in-stadium video screen) the crowd went absolutely nuts. We showed the commercials. Then we took the guys and moved them to another part of the stadium. I’ve never seen a crowd go so crazy. People were jumping up and down, yelling, screaming, running over to them, taking their pictures, and asking for autographs. These guys, like Mr. ‘S’ signs his autograph, ‘Mr. S.’ That is what we wanted—acceptance from the fans. That was the best proof of how we accomplished our goal.’’

Nike’s dominance was so impressive that other product categories, such as soft drinks and telephone companies, also adopted its ad style. Eventually market research found young consumers tiring of athlete-as-God and win-at-all-costs approaches. Ads with highly paid, ‘‘perfect-body’’ endorsers and so-called ‘‘full-of-itself’’ attitude began to suffer. After years of seeing the Nike swoosh logo everywhere, some people in focus groups began referring to it as a ‘‘swooshtika.’’ ‘‘The underlying cocky, prescriptive, hipper-than-thou tone of the ads started to get on people’s nerves, as did the company’s tendency to deify athletes,’’ wrote Warren Berger in Advertising Age.
In this environment the ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ campaign gave people a low-key approach. Whereas Nike portrayed the athlete as hero and hard worker, and Reebok fought back with its own sports-celebrity endorsers, adidas focused on the fan. (This focus, however, was at least partly a result of adidas’s and the Yankees’ ongoing lawsuit against the rest of MLB: adidas was not allowed to use Yankees players in the campaign’s spots until the lawsuit was settled.) The competition showed the athlete’s muscle, but the adidas spots showed the fans’ potbellies and lack of muscle tone. The spots came across as real and down to earth. Another twist was having one of the world’s greatest sports franchises represented not by its stable of stars but by the people who paid to see those stars play.
Among the campaign’s four initial black-and-white TV/cinema spots, two in particular resonated with New Yorkers and Yankee fans as well as with ad-industry critics. ‘‘Abandoned Mr. S’’ opened with a dance beat and the image of a shirtless and bald man waiting nervously on a busy street corner. Painted on his chest was an ‘‘S.’’ Viewers pondered this man’s purpose and felt his discomfort until a taxicab pulled up. His relief was palpable: inside were four other men, each shirtless and with a letter painted on his not-so-muscular chest. Together the men spelled out ‘‘YANKS.’’ In the spot ‘‘Spelling Trouble’’ the five guys were again in a cab and were again shirtless, each with a letter painted on his chest. The driver sized them up and said, ‘‘Ansky? What the hell is Ansky?’’ The guys, realizing that they were not sitting in the correct order, started moving around in the backseat, creating a tangle of limbs and torsos before settling into position, spelling out ‘‘YANKS.’’ Mr. ‘‘N’’ ended the spot by yelling ‘‘Yanks!’’ at the top of his lungs. Each commercial closed with the tagline ‘‘Only in New York.’’ When in May 1998 the adidas/Yankees lawsuit against the other MLB teams was settled, the campaign began featuring Yankees players in addition to the ‘‘ANSKY guys,’’ as the Yankee fans in the spots had become known. For instance, the Yankees’ pitching coach was shown advising pitcher David Cone to rest his arm. The ANSKY guys accordingly began doing everything in their power to help him rest his arm: they answered his cell phone for him, fed him, and even helped him relieve himself in the men’s room. The campaign’s annual budget was estimated to be $1 million. The spots initially ran on the large video screen at Yankee Stadium as well as on TV during local sports programming and in movie theaters in the New York area. During postseason games involving the Yankees the spots were aired nationally. Print and outdoor ads using photographs of the ANSKY guys were also employed.
Some criticized the advertisements for not showing or talking about the product, but adidas wanted all emphasis on the audience. ‘‘It’s not like [a]didas is a new brand that has burst out and needs to create a new identity,’’ said Courtney Buechert, managing director of Leagas Delaney. ‘‘Adidas’s identity was and is and has been for 70 years about love for a sport and a mission to create products to help athletes perform better.’’

The ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ campaign ran during an upswing for the company. Financially the year 1997 was the best ever for adidas, especially in the United States, where its growth rates outpaced Nike’s and Reebok’s. Worldwide sales were $3.72 billion in 1997, up 23 percent over 1996. North American sales were up 66 percent, increasing the company’s market share in the world’s most important sporting-goods market to more than 6 percent. In 1998 adidas also made huge strides in its attempt to catch Reebok and Nike; that year it doubled its share of the U.S. market to 12.6 percent.
The campaign’s target market seemed to love the spots. The five guys became celebrities, attracting crowds, autograph hounds (each ANSKY guy signed with his individual letter), and applause whenever they made a public appearance. The campaign also won many industry awards, including a Silver Lion at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, one silver and two bronze Clio Awards, and a 1998 American Advertising Federation Award. It was also a finalist at the One Show and earned a ‘‘Best Spot of 1997’’ recognition from Adweek. The campaign’s profile was heightened considerably by the Yankees’ championship season of 1998, during the course of which the spots ran on national television. The ANSKY guys were featured prominently in the victory parade following the Yankees’ World Series victory.
Leagas Delaney’s success with the ‘‘Yankee Fans’’ campaign landed it the New York Yankees’ own advertising duties in 1999. The agency was also entrusted with the job of crafting adidas’s first umbrella branding initiative in the United States since 1993. That campaign, the high-profile ‘‘Long Live Sport,’’ was released in 1999. The partnership between adidas and the New York Yankees was renewed in 2006, guaranteeing that adidas would remain the ‘‘Official Athletic Apparel and Footwear Company of the New York Yankees’’ at least through 2013.

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