Magazine article Marketing

Can Adidas Go the Distance?

Magazine article Marketing

Can Adidas Go the Distance?

Article excerpt

Adidas is changing its team marketing tactics in a bid to overtake Nike as the world's most successful sports brand. But, as Ian Darby reports, it has a major battle on its hands

Last year Adidas overtook arch-rival Nike as the best-perceived sports brand in the UK. A survey of 1000 consumers by Total Research found it was rated more highly than Nike (Marketing, February 2 1998). It also had the higher turnover in the sportswear market.

Nike has faded partly because sport shoes have been replaced by casual boots as the new street-wear. All this had led to hard questions about where it can go next.

But Adidas' UK and Ireland managing director Barry Hunter says his brand has no such problem.

Hunter says the brand's marketing must now reflect its place at the top of the league table. As part of this, he has restructured its 75-strong marketing team, merging the communications and sport departments.

"We have to think as a number one brand; up until now we've been thinking as number two. I wouldn't say we followed but we were watching," says Hunter.

Adidas' merged marketing operation will be headed by Rod Connors, who joins from Unilever in March (Marketing, January 14).

Hunter says he needed to hire people who had launched market-leading consumer brands and kept them at the top. Hence the hiring of Connors, who launched the Lynx brand, and Nick Craggs of SmithKline Beecham, who will head the soccer and rugby effort.

The winning way

In Europe, Adidas is biggest. Its 1997 turnover was [pounds]1.4bn. Nike's was [pounds]1.3bn. But Adidas declared a loss for the first six months of 1998 after buying ski group Salomon.

The UK sportswear market is worth [pounds]2.25bn. Nike leads in the [pounds]850m UK footwear market with a 35% share. Adidas has 24%. But in the [pounds]1.4bn apparel market, Adidas has a 34% share to Nike's 16%. This puts Adidas' UK turnover at around [pounds]684m. Globally, Nike has the bigger turnover. Reebok is third.

Nike insiders say they are not worried about Adidas' larger UK market share, claiming Nike could shift more stock but is keen to preserve its premium nature.

Adidas has always been stronger in apparel but Hunter wants to boost its footwear market share by developing running and adventure sport shoes. Like all such brands, the difficulty is making it fashionable while keeping its sports heritage.

Big name athletes will remain key. Hunter wants his marketing team to build UK market share through closer integration between signed athletes and its brand communications strategy.

Nike, which has a reputation for celebrity-led ads using the likes of soccer players Eric Cantona and Ian Wright, has not used famous athletes recently, preferring to focus on ordinary people using its products. However, a Nike source says it is not globally shelving its celebrities, just cutting down.

Nike still has large sponsorship deals with footballers such as Ronaldo and it will continue to use these deals as part of its advertising strategy. However, it is cutting its US advertising to make the brand more credible amid fears it is too mainstream.

Adidas has followed Nike in the use of big names, signing soccer's David Beckham and boxer Prince Naseem.

Wider commitment

Adidas claims to be committed to developing sport at all levels, particularly promising young players. …

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