How do you return a brand to its glory days of the ‘80s?
The challenge was to reinvigorate the status of adidas Originals’ as the leading sports-inspired brand and help them claim their rightful and relevant place in culture.
Originals had huge streetwear credibility because they were the first. However, they were stuck in the past—seen as a retro product line instead of a powerful brand of their own.
As one of the most iconic athletic companies, adidas found themselves falling behind in a world where athletic wear was becoming fashion-forward. They needed a strategy to relaunch adidas Originals in a crowded athletic category, but also an even more crowded fashion category.
Celebrating and enabling originality is not enough–adidas must become a creator to truly stand for originality.
The big idea was for adidas Originals to stop competing in a category and start competing in culture. To stop relying on history and start creating the future. To stop chasing people with communications and start attracting them through actions designed to build brand equity through cultural currency. Our new mission was defined as, “adidas Originals exists to propel culture from the street up.” The platform became the progenitor for future-forward events, advertising campaigns, and the evolution of partnerships with influencers like Kanye West, Pharrell, and Rita Ora.
Based on quant, ethnography studies, in-depth interviews, and culture inquiries, we discovered our audience defines originality in four ways: Bold—carried with a sense of assurance and confidence. Authentic—maintains a sense of integrity and stays true to identity. Challenging—questions the status-quo and pokes fun at power. Re-mixed—takes inspiration from, and plays with, culture. The foundation of our strategic framework was built around these four pillars.
Breaking the Rules
Our analysis showed we were playing by the category rules—and losing. We were seen as “credible,” “cool,” and “for sports,” but at significantly lower levels than the rest of the category. The white space opportunity was to focus our efforts on owning “individuality,” “character,” “innovation,” and “creativity”—the traits of an “original” that the rest of the category was ignoring.
The 7 Tenets of Original
In addition to delivering a new north star mission for adidas Originals, we developed seven tenets to help guide every decision they made.
1) Own the intersection of sport x street.
2) Treat Originals as its own brand.
3) Compete in culture, not in the category.
4) Make collective memory a springboard to the future.
5) Do fewer things bigger and better.
6) Utilize the entire brand infrastructure to “propel culture from the street up.”
7) Demonstrate originality, don’t just claim it.
Our research revealed that Originals fans had become too old, with 69% of them falling in the 25-35 year-old age bracket instead of the coveted 14-25 year-old range. And in terms of brands with street cred, adidas Originals fell far short of the competition in terms of fan passion, in sixth place behind Nike, adidas main brand, Converse, Jordan, and Vans. So, we focused our efforts on what we called “Leading Edge Sporty Teens.” Based on our research and conversations, they were the most likely to influence peers and culture at large. They’re cool, connected and savvy kids, always searching for what’s next. They revel in the influence they have among their peers who look to them for cues. They love sports, although not all of them are athletes. They wear sportswear to express their identity, not just to relax. They shop in big stores, looking for fresh and familiar brands. They want to shape the future—not for a few, but for everyone—and they want to be known for the difference they’ve made.