In what was arguably the cherry on the top, Pharrell Williams’ announcement as the latest high-profile adidas endorsee capped off a whirlwind signing spree for adidas. Despite its role as one of the earliest sports brands with a penchant for developing performance product and sporting champions, it was also among the first brands to truly embrace the intersection of sport, fashion and music on a relatively mainstream level with its ongoing Y-3 collection with Yohji Yamamoto, as well as Run-D.M.C. and Missy Elliot.
While Yamamoto’s partnership spans over a decade, we’ve recently seen adidas switch gears to build up its lifestyle focus. With that we’ve seen the introduction of several high-profile sponsored artists and designers spanning both music and fashion. A quick overview presents the following list among others:
- Kanye West
- Pharrell Williams
- 2 Chainz
- Big Sean
- Snoop Dogg
- Selena Gomez
- Justin Bieber
- Danny Brown
- A$AP Rocky
- Mark McNairy
- Yohji Yamamoto
- Kazuki Kuraishi
- Opening Ceremony
- Rick Owens
- Jeremy Scott
- Raf Simons
Lifestyle Brand Ambassadors vs Big-Name Athletes
“Perhaps based on adidas’s inability to be the first to get premiere athletes to sign on the dotted line, it has focused on encompassing more than just sport with a lifestyle approach.”
But for a brand whose core DNA lies in sports and the achievements on the field other than the stage, is this ongoing strategy to attract lifestyle brand ambassadors instead of big-name athletes the right one? Speaking with jeffstaple who’s had the opportunity to work with Nike, they were “always for the athlete and they tried to shy away from allowing celebrities, musicians or creatives to have a heavy hand in product development from the core… adidas has always been adaptive of that.” This brings up an interesting debate given Nike’s policy of only providing signature models to athletes and surely nobody can give a straight answer about which sport the Yeezys were intended for.
Perhaps based on adidas’s inability to be the first to get premiere athletes to sign on the dotted line, it has focused on encompassing more than just sport with a lifestyle approach. jeffstaple also went on to say, “It’s been a bit of a yin and yang effect where Nike very comfortably lives in being for the athlete and adidas will gladly take what Nike leaves behind on the table. If Nike chooses not to work with celebrities and cultural icons, adidas will gladly take that… I think adidas is happy to own that realm.”
Many have both been shocked and enamored by the pace and frequency of adidas with which has added to its roster. But having captured undoubtedly the two biggest influences in popular culture today with Kanye West and Pharrell Williams, the next question now is whether or not the German brand is able to best utilize and activate these brand ambassadors.
Marketing, Production and Design in Combination
“A fully-stocked team of lifestyle icons will help ease the outward perception of the brand as more than just sport and get the gears moving towards providing performance-lifestyle product.”
More than ever, the realm of sports, fashion and music are becoming truly intertwined. adidas has done well to strategically map out their tiering and during my four years at adidas launching both Consortium and working in Performance, there was a persistent theme that these worlds would be forever converging. Now, we see superstars such as Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez representing the younger, more price-aggressive Neo brand. On the other side, Opening Ceremony, BEDWIN & THE HEARTBREAKERS, Yohji Yamamoto, Raf SImons, Jeremy Scott, Mark McNairy, and Rick Owens have come into their own to help define a more trend and style-orientated demographic.
But with the influx of musically-based talent joining adidas, these personalities have often been involved in projects on what has essentially amounted to material-way and colorway design. With Pharrell and Kanye there exists the chance to change this trend, as both have maintained a strong desire for creative freedom and bring with them existing experience and knowledge in product design. It must be hard enough to manage various signature athletes, but now adidas has made it significantly more difficult with a huge roster not only representing the brand, but are also looking to create in their own right. With that comes a whole range of new considerations be it marketing, production and design. Some of the aforementioned individuals associated with adidas have been mostly a flash in the pan; a quick singular lifestyle footwear release followed up by little else with no tangible bridge to the ever desirable space of creating product that is both performance-minded and suitable for lifestyle.
This area has traditionally been adidas’s weakest area, of bringing performance product into the lifestyle realm. Nike’s powerhouse Flyknit franchise has turned what was meant to be a performance model into a full-fledged fashion icon, visible on fashion fans globally. However, adidas hasn’t had the same level of luck with its own performance technologies and design, namely the Boost of recent times and even its competing Primeknit. A fully-stocked team of lifestyle icons will help ease the outward perception of the brand as more than just sport and get the gears moving towards providing performance-lifestyle product.