Case Study: Web a Good Fit for Adidas

It’s show time for the sporting goods manufacturer, which spent less than 2 percent of its marketing budget online last year.

Up until a year ago, Adidas America looked at online advertising as nothing more than a 468x60-pixel banner to showcase its logo. But brand recognition was not the shoe company’s top priority. Consider, what professional athlete or sports enthusiast—or typical American teenager, for that matter—has never heard of the Kobe basketball shoe? Adidas is a world-recognized sports footwear, apparel, and accessories manufacturer with an estimated 15 percent share of the world’s sporting goods market and worldwide net sales in the $5 billion range. A small online ad unit couldn’t possibly communicate effectively the larger-than-life personality of its brand. As a result, the company last year reportedly spent last year less than 2 percent of its total marketing budget online.

But now it’s show time at Adidas America. The company has committed to a “noticeable shift” in its online advertising strategy—namely, to build a portfolio of new marketing tools to grow its customer base and drive sales. Thanks to technologies like Unicast’s Superstitials (TV commercials that play in pop-up windows) or Eyeblaster’s floating ads, companies like Adidas America can effectively demonstrate their products online. Eyeblaster, for instance, allows web publishers, advertising agencies, and advertisers to independently create and manage “out-of-banner” rich media advertising campaigns in all formats: floating ads that appear superimposed on web pages or emails, full-screen commercials, and wallpaper ads. In theory, the technology enables serving any media type—from Flash and animated gif to audio/video files.

“The industry went through a huge progression last year, and only now do we feel it can truly compete from a ‘branding’ perspective,” says Adam Milne, the company’s online manager of business development and digital marketing. Milne juggles everything from managing the company’s online media strategies and co-marketing partnerships to supervising the Adidas brand digitally. And although he won’t say exactly how much more Adidas America plans on spending this year in online advertising, “it’ll be significantly more than last year.”

In fact, the new strategy started last year with a face-lift of the company’s website,, and the navigational patterns that incorporated all marketing regions within a single site. Clearly, Milne admits, there are some campaigns that are global in nature and others where the story needs to be told locally.

Here in the United States, for example, people visit the Adidas website because they often want to develop a closer relationship not only with the brand, but with the brand’s athletes and sporting events. For example, the German shoe company partnered with German automaker Audi two years ago to design the Kobe running shoe, which pays homage to basketball superstar Kobe Bryant of the world champion Los Angeles Lakers while celebrating Southern California culture. It was in some respects an unlikely alliance—one that contained the potential for creative cross-branding.

More recently, Adidas appointed Carat Interactive as its online media buying agency, and TBWA and its global agency network to work alongside its existing agency, 180, out of Amsterdam. “We hope to bring greater cohesion and consistency to our creative presence and brand concepts worldwide,” says Milne.

To that end, Adidas America plans on engaging in two types of online advertising campaigns: One for branding and the other to focus on direct response for the company’s e-commerce channel. “It’s important to separate them because each has different objectives—to communicate Adidas brand personality or to generate product information or sales,” says Milne. “On the other hand, if someone comes to our website via a branding campaign and uses our retail locator to buy from one of our retailers, that’s a huge win for us.”

And by incorporating rich media into these campaigns, consumers can dig deeper within the initial marketing message, says Milne. “Rich media combines movement and sound and visuals for the consumer to get a great exploration of the brand experience. It really pushes the power into consumers’ hands, and the medium becomes that much more efficient and relevant.”

In January, Adidas America launched an NBA All-Star Flash campaign on In February, the company introduced a new technology on the Kobe micro-site that allows American teenagers to download interactive Kobe trading cards.

Adidas America is also building co-marketing relationships that “make sense” for the company. In February, for example, the company ran a campaign on where users could pick a virtual model to match their own body type and try on various clothes and shoes. “Maxim really speaks to our customer,” says Milne.

“Both campaigns—NBA All-Star and Maxim—were hybrids of sorts,” adds Milne. “One the one hand, we wanted to communicate our brand objectives, but we also wanted each program to link to our e-commerce channels so consumers could either buy our products or experience our products.”

Adidas believes the advancements made in rich media are vital to the success of its online strategies because they offer something the other mediums don’t offer—two-way communication between the company and consumers. “We’re definitely making a serious attempt at incorporating richer ad units into our strategy,” says Milne.

In deciding which types of technology to use on which campaigns, adidas America first determines the best way to communicate a particular message to its target audience—whether it’s print, TV, radio, outdoor, or online. Then it chooses the best and most appropriate technology. “We might think Eyeblaster is the best way to execute a particular launch, or Unicast’s Superstitials, or we might think the TV spot we’re already running is doing a great job,” explains Milne. “But ultimately, we hope the strategies can work together.

“We’re seeing a lot more opportunity for cross-platform opportunities,” adds Milne. “Obviously, each has its unique advantages, and as a company you need to play off those advantages. But when two or even three mediums work together, the results increase exponentially.”

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