Do you remember where you were when you first watched The Royal Tenenbaums or listened to Run D.M.C.?
Those moments might soon be mined by Adidas' marketing department, if my reading of the tea leaves is correct.
"We have so many assets that nobody knows about, and if we could tell those stories in a much better, U.S.-centric way, this brand in a very short time could definitely change its cool factor," said the brand's North American president Mark King, while speaking to the Wall Street Journal about Adidas's attempts to be cool again in U.S. markets.
What King says also happens to be true for the Adidas stories Americans already know about.
Consider Wes Anderson's 2001 film, The Royal Tenenbaums. It had a star-studded cast, received critical acclaim, and exceeded $71 million at the box office. Both the film and Anderson himself boast legions of loyal, passionate superfans.
And all of those fans know that actor Ben Stiller's character, Chas Tenenbaum, rocks a red Adidas tracksuit in the film. As do his twin sons, Ari and Uzi. You can see the suits in the movie's trailer. In a funeral scene toward the end of the film, all three characters change into black Adidas tracksuits.
It might seem like just another product placement in the American cinema. But to ardent fans of Anderson and the film, those tracksuits are iconic. They are a key piece of a landmark movie that told their generation's tale. They make Adidas cool in an eternal way.
How can Adidas mine this 14-year-old product placement for contemporary coolness points?
One way is to move away from storytelling and toward the art of story making. David Berkowitz, CMO with Manhattan branding consultancy MRY, has noted that the big problem with classic brand storytelling is it's a one-way street--with your brand doing all the talking.
The smartest brands, he says, are switching to story making, in which you gather and spread the tales of your potential customers. Ideally, those stories reveal how your brand is or has been a powerful, emotional part of their lives. The story making example Berkowitz likes to use comes from Coca-Cola. Here's how he describes it in an AdAge article:
Think of a brand you love: Apple, Tide, Gucci, Hyundai, or any brand that you identify with. Do you know what its story is? I just paid way too much money to get the new iPhone, but I can't tell you Apple's story.
I asked my wife about this, too. Cara loves Diet Coke, so I asked her, "What's Coke's story?" The next thing I knew, I was living in a real-world version of the "carousel" moment from Mad Men. She started telling me about when Coke came out with cans with red tabs, and all her friends used to collect them. And then she told me about the games she played with her friends in sleep-away camp, where they'd break off tabs from Coke cans as a way to reveal which boys they liked. Thanks to this brand, I was learning more about the person in my life I have been the closest to for nearly a decade.
You can see how this insight would be helpful to any brand working on its marketing strategy--Adidas included. Just as Coke has story makers like Cara, Adidas has story makers too: Anyone with emotional memories of The Royal Tenenbaums.
The Royal Tenenbaums is just one of many pop-culture placements Adidas can mine. Another comes from the world of music. In 1986, legendary rap group Run D.M.C. released the landmark album Raising Hell. It went triple platinum, which was, at the time, unheard of for rap records. This was the rap album that made rap mainstream.
Its third track is called "My Adidas." It's exactly what it sounds like: An ode to Adidas footwear and all it represents. And just as there are countless potential consumers in America with emotional ties to The Royal Tenenbaums, there are those of us for whom Raising Hell was a formative--and more important, joyous--listening experience.
What brand wouldn't want to affiliate itself with those positive, happy memories? Back in 1986, Adidas officially embraced the association with Run D.M.C. The company recognized the marketing power of the rap world, inking an official advertising deal with the group.
Yet Adidas ultimately moved away from the Run D.M.C. affiliation, believing it diverted them from their bread and butter: sports markets. Now the time is right to revisit the Run D.M.C. linkage and to mine it for story making strategies. Here are a few more Adidas moments in pop culture that the brand would be wise to use:
- "My Adidas" also happens to appear on the soundtrack to the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. Consumers form emotional attachments to video games--especially the games of their childhood--in the same way they do for albums and movies.
- In "Beverly Hills Cop" (1985), Eddie Murphy wears Adidas sneakers throughout the film. It's a superbly believable product placement that Adidas could still lean on for publicity--in honor of the movie's 30th anniversary.
With all of these fun and iconic tie-ins to the American market, it's easy to map out a path for Adidas to solve its so-called coolness problem. While courting the younger generation--for whom 80s references mean nothing--should be a large part of that plan, Adidas can also gain market share by leveraging the memories of customers who believed the brand was cool way back in the day--and still do.