Can new Adidas agency TBWA compete with world champs Nike and W+K at Brazil 2014?

And we shouldn’t ignore digital giant AKQA either, which shares Nike creative duties with Wieden+Kennedy.

A few weeks ago we suggested that Adidas, a tier one World Cup sponsor, was looking for an agency “to kill Nike,” which regularly disrupts Adidas’s expensive relationship with both the World Cup and the Olympics through its artful deployment of ambush marketing.

It’s not that Nike smuggles ringers wearing Nike T-shirts into the venues, but it does saturate the airwaves (and the internet) with its own sport-related ads as well as insisting that its contracted athletes and footballers wear its kit. The latter is likely to reach farcical levels at this summer’s London Olympics.

At the last World Cup in 2010 Adidas seemed seriously underpowered with Toronto’s Sid Lee, who produced a reasonable Star Wars-themed ad and not much else of note, up against W+K Amsterdam’s blockbuster ‘Write The Future’ and yards of other stuff besides. WTF may be one of the most over-awarded commercials in history but its star line-up of footballers, powerful filming and massive media budget made it look like the World Cup was Nike’s not Adidas’s.

Adidas has now chosen TBWA Worldwide, one of its roster agencies, to handle its World Cup campaign. Sid Lee dropped out of the contest early on along with Bartle Bogle Hegarty, leaving TBWA to win the shootout (as we say in the game) against DDB and Mother.

Sid was always on a hiding to nothing, BBH would have been an interesting choice. If you’re going to go against W+K and AKQA then BBH (which is highly competent at digital too) might seem the obvious choice. BBH doesn’t really do WTF-type blockbusters though (arguably neither do DDB or Mother although Mother’s become rather noisier recently).

So can TBWA? The jewel in the crown at TBWA is Lee Clow’s Media Arts Lab, which handles Apple. Apple moved into TBWA when it bought Chiat Day, the late Jay Chiat’s agency that made its name with a real blockbuster, Apple’s ‘1984’ ad that launched the Mac on an unsuspecting world. TBWA itself was bought by Omnicom in 1993 and many other agencies came into the fold, including the UK’s GGT and Simons Palmer. All of which helped to create a very large global agency but, arguably again, not one with quite the sure-footedness of Omnicom’s star performer BBDO.

So the next World Cup, which will be bigger than ever as it’s being held in football crazy Brazil, will be big test for both Adidas and TBWA. Adidas needs to provide the financial firepower to compete with Nike’s humungous budget and TBWA needs to assemble a team who can match the current masters of the sporting universe.

If turf wars can be pushed aside, TBWA London’s Brazilian-born creative director Andre Laurentino might get a look-in. TBWA London hasn’t lit many fires of the right variety recently but Laurentino’s only been there a year. In Brazil he was a noted writer as well as adman so he knows the culture, which any convincing World Cup campaign will have to exemplify.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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