Friday, May 10, 2013

Adidas: How (Not) to Manage the Unexpected

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Better safe, than sorry.

It’s a lesson we've all been told growing up. Whether it’s packing that extra sweater, or checking to see if you locked the door, it’s a way of thinking many of us have adopted in our everyday lives.

In the unpredictable world of sports marketing, it's a phrase to live by. 

Now, being safe doesn't necessarily mean sticking to tradition or being conservative. It just means it’s important to have all your bases covered; or rather, to always be prepared for the unexpected.

Adidas knows this all too well.

It happened in April of 2012. Just two months after signing Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose to a 14-year, $250 million dollar contract, he tore his ACL and would be sidelined for at least 9-12 months.

Other sporting goods manufacturers would have shelved Rose and shifted focus on to a different athlete. I mean, really, how can you sell a branded shoe if the athlete is injured?

But in the rubble, Adidas saw an opportunity.

#TheReturn (as it's known on social media) was a 6-video web series that chronicled Rose's rehabilitation process. The digital campaign stretched over a four month period and emphasized Rose's hunger and determination to come back.

Since the campaign launched last August, the series has been viewed 7 million times on YouTube, the number of Twitter followers for @adidashoops has increased by 100 percent and discussions about Adidas on Facebook have gone up by 200 percent.  

How did Adidas manage to accomplish this? They covered their bases.

Insight: Adidas listened to what people were saying online before reacting. It’s a simple, yet effective practice brands neglect when things go array. The outpouring of support for Rose on social media was the inspiration behind the campaign.

Social Media: If you want to address an issue in a timely fashion, look no further than social media. Adidas ditched  traditional media outlets like TV and print, and went digital. Social platforms like YouTube and Twitter enabled Adidas to connect with its consumers directly. This resulted in a stronger online brand presence for Adidas. 

Emotional Appeal: In order for a brand to succeed in managing the unexpected, it has to know what strengths to play up. Adidas understood Rose’s appeal and used the campaign to highlight everything fans love about him.

When the campaign came to a close six months ago, Adidas was lauded for their ability to turn a nightmare situation into marketing gold.
But those critics may now be rethinking their stance.   

See, what Adidas failed to recognize is that managing the unexpected is an active evaluation of the situation. Just because a campaign ends, it doesn't mean you're home free.

The problem now is that Rose has still not come back.

Under normal circumstances, an athlete's decision to sit out would not be problem. But #TheReturn created such a hype, that it led fans to believe that Rose was in a position to come back sooner, rather than later. And after being teased with this thought for months by Adidas, fans are not taking this outcome well.  

Here's the bottom line: If Adidas ever plans to sell another Derrick Rose shoe in the future, it needs to do some major damage control. Waiting any longer to respond or ignoring the issue completely will tarnish its brand image. 

Adidas had the right idea with #TheReturn, but the message behind the campaign needs to be reworked going forward. And to do so, Adidas needs to go back to the basics:

Listen: Adidas needs to once again listen to what is being said about before they can act accordingly.   

Be realistic: Rose may be an extremely gifted basketball player, but he’s still human. Recovering from a serious injury like an ACL tear requires patience and even when he does return, it will take Rose a while before he plays at an MVP level again. Embrace this fact. Take the theatrics down a notch and give fans the chance to see the situation clearly.

Stay true to Adidas: Adidas is all about helping athletes perform their best. So instead of looking to expedite the rehab process on camera, Adidas needs to show that it genuinely cares about the well-being of its athletes and consumers. Recovery is not a race, but rather a process. The sooner Adidas accepts this, the better chance it will have in reconnecting with its consumers.

Stay true to Derrick Rose: As the brand behind Rose, Adidas is doing him a major disservice by letting him get most of the bad rap for his decision not come back yet. After all, would Rose even be facing this much criticism had #TheReturn not created the expectation that he is coming back soon?

Developing an advertising campaign around an injured athlete is risky business, but companies have found a way to make it work. For example, when LA Lakers guard Kobe Bryant went down with an injury last month, Nike released an ad paying homage to him. It was a simple, yet powerful print ad that even caught Bryant off guard.

Regardless of how Adidas chooses to address the "is he coming back-or is he not" soap opera that has become of Rose's life, it's imperative every possible is accounted for.  

Parisa Durrani is a student in the Masters of Science in Integrated Marketing Communications program at Northwestern University. She's passionate about all things NBA and can be found on Twitter @ParisaDurrani 

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