adidas has no issues with the concept of collaboration; in fact one could argue that it is the brand authority on collaboration. If you look back at adidas in terms of its performance heritage you can start to build a case – it has collaborated with Beckenbauer, Ivan Lendl and more recently with David Beckham. The purpose of these collaborations was all about brand renewal; it was about refreshing the brand in the eyes of the consumer because from a performance perspective, product renewal takes place automatically. There are natural changes in sports practices, changes in technology and there are changes within sport itself so those factors – technology, materials and sport – naturally affect the product and determine development. In a word, the product has to keep up to address those changes.
In terms of style and fashion, adidas again has previous form for collaboration, such as Y-3 and their ongoing relationship with Yohji Yamamoto, which kicked off the process of taking their sports heritage into style distribution and fashion channels. This process continues with their hybrid range from Stella McCartney. These two examples are about product collaboration and product renewal but also about brand renewal.
The issue with adidas Originals is how do you renew adidas Originals when its product line is steeped in its archive? You can only redesign and refresh the same product so many times before you run out of opportunities to renew the brand. Hence why adidas have had to think big in terms of collaboration to help renew the product.
Fortunately, they now have the opportunity with NIGO, Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. Together, these collaborations aim to renew the Originals brand and to inject new thinking into the product. You only have to hear Kanye discuss his desire to rediscover his art school days and you begin to understand that this is as much about product renewal as it is about celebrity endorsement.
The reason they’ve done this is to fill a vacuum since they’re running out of space and opportunities to refresh the Originals line. I believe this is forward-thinking on their part, as they wish to effectively create the Originals of the future. Only time will tell, however, whether this strategy will create outstanding desirable product that can stand alongside adidas icons such as the Stan Smith, Superstars and the rest of their retro range.
The “watch out” for adidas is this – Reebok did “I am what I am” with arguably the late ’90s/early 2000s versions of Kanye and Pharrell, using Jay Z and 50 Cent – another brand renewal done on the altar of hip-hop and urban music and personally, I’m not sure it worked. The plus side is that adidas has a great track record of working with creative assets and turning them into even greater commercial products.
There’s an obvious parallel between the ambassadors in their performance line and the ambassadors they now have in their Originals range. The critical difference, though, is that the agent of change on their performance product is the advancement of technology and the changes in practice and technique in the sport itself; whereas with the fashion motivated Originals line, they’re asking more of their ambassadors because they are asking them to be the agent of change on the product and effectively asking them to be the designers and innovators. This is the potential threat to this part of their strategy.
Is it a long-term strategy or short-term hype? Absolutely it is short-term hype but it is definitely part of a longer-term behavioral psychosis at adidas, a brand who historically have relied on collaborating with sporting and creative endorsements. We’ll only know in hindsight whether this new bold venture will be deemed a success.
Written by Bob Sheard for Highsnobiety.com