Adidas on the new rules of content marketing

Adidas' World Cup campaign is a watershed moment in content marketing, writes Nicola Kemp


'All in or nothing’ was more than just a World Cup strapline for Adidas, it was a real-time marketing state of mind.  When the social media superlatives and hyper-masculine ‘war room' analogies subside, what can the industry learn from Adidas’ content marketing coup?

Tom Ramsden, global brand marketing director of Football at the sportswear giant, who has just touched-down from the brand’s Rio real-time marketing hub, is already pondering the long-term legacy of the tournament. 

‘When we look back in four years' time the pay-off will be that we didn’t rely on the boom and bust of an ad campaign,’  he explains. ‘From our results a content first approach is the strongest way to win, and our legacy [from this World Cup] is the followers we can continue the conversation with.'

The dust has not yet settled on the World Cup, England’s fans are still deflated by the team’s dismal performance and Germany is still basking in the warm-glow of victory. But in the marketing sphere, at least, Adidas has been declared the victor. 

However, whilst the brand’s marketing has been roundly celebrated, its share price has tanked, hitting a 16-month low following its high profile sponsorship deal with Manchester United. So is the marketing community guilty of declaring the brand the victor prematurely?

Rupert Pratt, co-founder of Generate Sponsorship, says that from a business perspective at least, it is too soon to declare a victor. ‘Adidas certainly captured the imagination from a creative perspective, but Nike may have won from an overall business standpoint, it is too soon to call it.’

It is, however, not too soon for marketers to pose the question; how did Adidas build creative cut-through in the midst of the world’s biggest sporting event?

With this in mind, here are the seven key marketing learnings from Adidas' campaign:

The new rules of content marketing

1. Investment in ‘Anticipated content’

For every piece of content consumers saw during the World Cup from Adidas there were thousands more that never saw the light of day. The sportswear giant and its agencies created a comprehensive library of content, mapping out thousands of different scenarios.

‘The biggest takeout from the World Cup will be the way we approach real time marketing and creating anticipated moments. Increasing our investment in that will be key to how we move forward,’ explains Ramsden.

In practice, this meant not just hedging their bets and investing in deeper content and videos to bring the most spine-tingling moments of the tournament alive, but having the confidence to invest in content first. ‘There was a point internally when we were almost overwhelmed by the opportunity; we had an Adidas representative embedded with every sponsored team. We were confident we would be able to inform the content.’

This leapfrog approach allowed Adidas to not just respond to the tournament in real time, but with richer content. ‘The days on relying on a 2D image and a line of content are over, it is not enough.’

2. Don’t be afraid to place content ahead of your brand

In an unprecedented move during the World Cup final in eight rotations of stadium boards, three out of eight rotations contained no Adidas branding at all.

The significance of this shift should not be underestimated. A record global audience of almost one billion tuned in to see Germany beat Argentina 1- 0, while 20 million viewers tuned in in the UK.

‘For Adidas at this point visibility alone is not driving the brand forward. There are not many people watching who don’t know who Adidas are, it was much more about using the opportunity to push our message,’ adds Ramsden.

3. People trump traditional sponsorship properties

It is clear that Adidas is looking well beyond the traditional real-estate provided by sports sponsorship. The learnings from the World Cup will also drive how the sportswear giant activates its record sponsorship deal with Manchester United. ‘Our approach with clubs will be not just looking at the product [and sponsorship property] but the people. Those teams have enormous fan bases for us and the opportunity to connect with them through content is there.’

4. Create your own stories

In one of the most creative uses of branded content of the tournament Adidas brought the official World Cup ball to life; giving it not just a Twitter handle but a personality and a name.

Tim Crow, chief executive of Synergy, says that 'Brazuca' was a real coup for Adidas. ‘It was an inanimate object and they really brought it to life and built it a following.'

5. Have a clear purpose

‘Share of voice was our number one key metric,’ explains Ramsden, ‘but beyond that it was all about making "All in or nothing" lead the conversation throughout the games.’

Cameron Day, business development director at the Marketing Store, says that while this strategy has maintained Adidas’ position in football now this content agenda must perform in the long-term. ‘The key is continuing to outperform Nike in sales,’ he explains, adding: ‘The question is when does promoting their teams and players like Messi stop and promoting their product and driving sales begin.’

6. Look beyond the campaign

‘We didn’t do the boom and bust of the ad campaign and now we are seeing the pay off. The legacy of the World Cup for us will be the followers we have built and continuing the conversation with them. From our results a content-first approach is the strongest way to do that,’ explains Ramsden

7. Don’t leave your emotions at the door

There is no doubt that Adidas had a phenomenal set of sponsored assets in its suite of World Cup players and teams. But perhaps just as important was its suite of marketers and agencies; rooting just as passionately for their teams as their brand. Perhaps one of Adidas’ greatest victories was not letting its corporate agenda over-ride its understanding of the emotional investment its consumers across the globe have in the World Cup.

‘We were able to celebrate the success of our teams without gloating and that was a real power of the way we set up our global hub with teams from across the world. We had a really good sense of how much it mattered,’ explains Ramsden. 

This strategy delivered Adidas’ marketing team victory in the truest sense of the word, both on and off the pitch.

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