“I was wondering if you’d like to start writing a regular column,” Stephen Foster asked me recently, “one that gives a younger person’s perspective of the industry, perhaps weighing up your impressions of adland from the time you were working at Campaign and your time now working on the other side of the fence in the industry itself.”
How could I refuse? “I’d love to,” I said, “but I will warn you, every time I’m given a bit of free rein I usually end up wittering on about football. I’ll do my best to try and avoid that.”
I’ve failed in the first week.
But there’s a very good reason, and that reason is Adidas.
Adidas has been one of the most talked about brands these past few days. The bitter rivalry between them and Nike is one of the most intriguing in marketing, and the World Cup is always the most intense of battlegrounds.
So who won this year’s contest? Ironically I’ve already read one article this week crowning Adidas as winner, and another awarding the title to Nike. That’s probably because there’s been very little to separate the two. Both used straplines that basically said the same thing (although I personally much prefer Nike’s ‘Risk Everything’ to the hideous ‘All in or nothing’ mouthful that Adidas concocted). And both brands predictably came out all guns blazing before the tournament with big blockbuster TV ads featuring high intensity music, questionable story lines and as many stars as they could cram into 120 seconds. Again, Nike won that battle for me, although I think everyone would admit that the spot was nowhere near the levels that the brand’s previous efforts have reached.
Where Adidas did get the edge was during the tournament. Or, more specifically, during the final few matches. The two semi-finals pitted Nike v Adidas, and, just like the World Cup itself, the Germans emerged victorious. A Germany v Argentina final meant Adidas v Adidas, whilst Nike v Nike played out a third place play off in a game even the most diehard of football fan struggled to watch.
Adidas will point to its stars lighting up the tournament too. As Nike players perished (you might have seen this photo doing the rounds on the internet) the Adidas-backed Manuel Neuer picked up the Golden Glove, James Rodriquez won the Golden Boot and Bastian Schweinsteiger was man of the match in the final.
The brand’s marketing executives will further point to Lionel Messi winning the player of the tournament award, but this may be a subject best avoided, such was the general bafflement at the decision. Indeed, accusations that as official sponsor Adidas orchestrated Messi’s win weren’t far away – even Diego Maradona, who since retiring from football has made a living from talking bollocks, managed to echo public opinion when he said “Messi? I would give him heaven if possible, but it’s not right when someone wins something that he shouldn’t have won just because of some marketing plan.”
And finally, Adidas made a worthy bid to take the social World Cup crown too. Their tub-thumping tweets tailored for each competing nation saw a great deal of success, and their official match ball even became a Twitter celebrity in its own right, with @brazuca garnering more than 3 million followers thanks to a clever and witty account. Even Pope Francis followed. With real-time marketing being the buzz phrase at the moment and hundreds of brands looking to the World Cup for their ‘Oreo moment’, Adidas can be applauded.
So a gentle well done to a brand who I’ll admit I thought would once again get blown away by a savvier rival in Nike. Yet there’s no respite for Adidas. The sun had barely gone down in Rio when the company announced that it had signed a mammoth £750 million kit deal with Manchester United. Even forgetting the club’s recent struggles and the lack of Champions League football this season, this is a massive deal, and one that most analysts have currently put more favourably in the Manchester United camp. So if Adidas are going to get their money’s worth, then they’re going to have to activate creatively and on a scale like never before. The World Cup will only be the tip of the iceberg. And whatever they end up doing, nothing like this please.