On this Day:

In 1900, Adolf Dassler, German entrepreneur (founder sportswear company Adidas), was born in Herzogenaurach, Germany (d. 1978).

Adolf “Adi” Dassler (3 November 1900 – 6 December 1978) was a German cobbler, inventor and entrepreneur who founded the German sportswear company Adidas. He was also the younger brother of Rudolf Dassler, founder of Puma. Dassler was an innovator in athletic shoe design and one of the early promoters who obtained endorsements from athletes to drive sales of his products. As a result of his concepts, Adi Dassler built the largest manufacturer of sportswear and equipment. At the time of his death, Adidas had 17 factories and annual sales of one billion marks (per Wikipedia).

Adidas, in full Adidas AG, German manufacturer of athletic shoes and apparel and sporting goods. In the early 21st century it was the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe and the second largest (after Nike) in the world. Adidas products are traditionally marked with a three-stripe trademark, which remains an element in the company’s newer “trefoil” and “mountain” logos. Headquarters are in Herzogenaurach, Germany.

The name Adidas (written “adidas” by the company) is an abbreviation of the name of founder Adolf (“Adi”) Dassler. The Dassler family began manufacturing shoes after World War I. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the American track-and-field star Jesse Owens wore shoes that were reportedly a gift from Adi Dassler. Owens’s medal-winning performances increased awareness of the Dassler brand around the world. After the disruptions of World War II, Adi and his brother Rudolf (“Rudi”) strove to rebuild the Dassler firm, but a personal breach between the brothers had become irreparable by 1948. The business therefore split in two: Rudi’s company was eventually called Puma, while Adi’s became Adidas.

Adidas grew steadily during the 1950s as association football (soccer) players switched to the company’s shoes, which were light in weight and featured screw-in cleats. The company then developed a line of sporting goods, introducing soccer footballs in 1963. Four years later Adidas began to produce apparel. For many years Adidas was the biggest name in athletic shoes, but competition increased during the 1970s, notably from newer firms such as Nike. Adi Dassler died in 1978, and the company experienced falling market shares during the 1980s, despite an innovative endorsement deal with the rap group Run-D.M.C., creators of the hit song “My Adidas” (1986). (The company was to ally with hip-hop again in a 2016 deal with the rapper and entrepreneur Kanye West.)

Between 1990 and 1993 Adidas was owned by the scandal-tainted French business executive Bernard Tapie, who failed to revive it. The company was sold to investors who brought in another Frenchman, Robert Louis-Dreyfus, as chief executive officer and chairman. Under his leadership, Adidas acquired the Salomon Group in 1997. Although best known for winter sports products, Salomon also owned the golf supplier TaylorMade. Adidas was renamed Adidas-Salomon AG and moved into retailing, following the lead of Nike, in 2001. In 2004 the company entered a successful partnership with the clothing designer Stella McCartney.

In 2005 Adidas sold Salomon but held on to the TaylorMade brand. The following year the corporate name was changed back to Adidas AG.Adidas’s later acquisitions included the Reebok company (2006), which owned the Rockport brand of shoes, and Five Ten (2011), maker of outdoor-sports shoes. Adidas sold TaylorMade in 2017 (per https://www.britannica.com/topic/Adidas-AG).

First, a Story:

My baseball team doesn’t allow anyone to wear Adidas.

Three stripes and you’re out.

Second, a Song:

Eugen Merher  has posted the video “Break Free”, starring Jens Weisser, Herman Van Ulzen, Anja Karmanski, Hiltrud Hauschke, Daniel Hubertus on YouTube.com.  Eugen Merher   directed (and wrote the script) with the music by Alexander Wolf David.  

Here is the backstory:

“The elderly man sits on his bed alone or at a table surrounded by others in a depressing retirement home. He gazes into space, thinking of his past glory as a marathon athlete. After rediscovering his well-worn Adidas training shoes, he suddenly tries to regain a sense of freedom by running again. But the nursing home staff cruelly blocks all his attempts and confiscates his shoes. After a while, his retirement friends help him recover them – and, with their bodies, prevent the staff from stopping him and killing his dream. The old man breaks free, runs away and raises his arms in a sign of elation.This emotional “Adidas Break Free” ad has spread incredibly, reaching 9,8 million views on YouTube in just a few weeks. A huge success by all standards. But the interesting fact is, it’s not an Adidas campaign.

Spec ad

This 1.40-minute video was made by students at Germany’s Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg, and written and directed by 26 y. o. Eugen Mehrer, a fourth-year film student at the academy. In other words, it’s a spec ad (meaning a “speculative ad” created by people who aspire to work in advertising) or, from another standpoint, it’s just user-generated content. Something that emerged bottom up and that the Adidas company neither promoted nor approved.

Indeed, Mehrer tried to get a green light and emailed the company, but to no avail. As he explained to Adweek, “They said that they didn’t support the work because they get lots of these kinds of requests, they already have their agencies, and they don’t really need it”.

Now this case has many talking – on websites such as Forbes and the Huffington Post and on many blogs. The success of the video is due to several things, but first and foremost to its storytelling content: the ad Hero goes from a dreary condition to fulfilling his dream, by fighting hostile forces and with the help of his buddies. (Some frames from the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest movie come to mind).

Also, the story is not focussed on the product, it’s rather about brand values (as interpreted by the authors) and this approach is definitely on trend.

But the most interesting aspect is another one. The video is a clear example of user-generated content that proves that, nowadays, companies don’t own their narratives anymore. This is the time of narrative sharing, and the “Break Free” ad is a case in point.

Who owns the narrative

Actually, it’s very understandable that Adidas people may have a different idea of what their company should communicate to its consumers. Some online comments stating that the company behaved arrogantly seem misplaced. Other remarks, like that of a user called Smarsh on the video YouTube page, are more amusing but not necessarily correct (“Plot twist: Adidas ignored this video because they knew it’d go viral and they don’t have to spend a dime on it”).

The fact is, today web users have a say in what a brand’s narrative is, and their view should be taken into consideration – for the good reason that many customers are totally open to it. Most likely, a lot of the 9.8 million people who watched the video think this is Adidas advertising, irrespective of whether the company agrees or not” (per https://webstorytelling.org/index.php/2017/01/11/the-break-free-spec-ad-for-adidas/).

Here is Eugen Merher’s video “Break Free”.  I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“The Nike swash that cost $30 and was designed by a Portland State University art student was probably worth that when she first showed it to them. At that point it had no equity at all. None of the guys commissioning it particularly liked it, they all wanted the Adidas three stripes and they thought that was a good logo.” — Michael Bierut

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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