As Adidas’s profits continue to rise, the German brand is proving it understands the art of making celebrity partnerships work to its advantage.
This week, the brand announced its appointment of Kendall Jenner as a brand ambassador for the Adidas Originals collection, which features classic looks like the iconic Stan Smith sneaker. Jenner is the latest in a list of celebrity influencers and collaborators recently tapped by the brand to help elevate its status and increase sales — and its efforts have translated to results. Last month, Adidas reported a quarterly net profit increase of 30 percent, to $495 million. When it comes to working with A-listers, Adidas has carved a strategic approach that transcends pure sponsorship, and focuses on partnerships that feel genuine for both its traditional sportswear collections and Adidas Originals.
The key is tactful selection of influencers and brand ambassadors, with a keen eye for choosing individuals that already have an established affinity for the brand. In a former interview with Glossy, James Carnes, vp of global brand strategy at Adidas, said his team specifically seeks out partnerships that feel genuine and not contrived.
“One of the ways you measure if something is successful is if more people want to buy it, but ultimately, if it doesn’t represent that value of the partnership, people sense that these days,” he said. “They can see through something that’s a sponsorship deal only or just something where you hired someone to give you credibility.”
Matt Britton, CEO of digital agency Crowdtap, said Adidas has also succeeded by leaning into the street style and athleisure ties of its Adidas Originals line in a way that differentiates itself from the high-performance culture of competitors like Under Armour and Nike. “Adidas, at a certain point, basically decided it was more of a lifestyle than performance brand. It’s smart that they’re embracing who they are and realizing people don’t wear Yeezys on the basketball court, they wear Air Jordans,” he said.
In forging organic partnerships, Adidas is able to avoid painful brand failures, Britton said — like the unceremonious ousting of Alicia Keys as creative director of BlackBerry, following awkward incidents like tweeting promotional content from her iPhone.
To avoid weak or gimmicky marketing, Carnes said Adidas works closely with collaborators like Karlie Kloss and Kanye West to design to their tastes and sensibilities, while still adhering to Adidas’s brand identity. Kloss, who was appointed as the face of Adidas Women’s Training in December 2016, felt like a natural extension for the brand after she previously represented and modeled for the Stella McCartney for Adidas collection.
“Somebody else approaching Karlie Kloss might come into it asking what exactly her influence would be, how that would affect purchase intent and how she would drive sales,” Carnes said. “That’s absolutely legitimate, but our approach has been a little different. We want to be the creator brand, where people come to us to be the most and original version of themselves. We see Karlie as a person who inspires the same thing, so we wanted her to help us get better at that, while at the same time building her identity and brand.”
Kloss is also just one example of how the brand has been particularly bullish in looking to expand its women’s apparel market. Kamiu Lee, head of business development and strategy at the influencer network Bloglovin’, said Adidas has worked to bolster sales by tapping an expansive set of female influencers who span a diverse array of industries and athletic arenas.
“[Adidas] clearly understands that influencers — with their powerful reach on various social media platforms today — are more personal, instant and authentic compared to traditional media, and their audiences are more trusting and engaged,” she said. “Influencers today are valuable, decentralized media properties when tapped into in the right way.”
Despite the success of its celebrity campaigns, not everyone is so keen on Adidas’s heavy focus on celebrities, like Jenner, rather than true athletes.
“Given the uphill battle female athletes already face to get respect, especially those who don’t fit the ‘model’ body type, giving them a chance to model the clothing they actually wear certainly couldn’t hurt,” Ellie Krupnick, managing editor of Racked, wrote on Wednesday.
Regardless, Kendall Jenner’s reach (she has more than 81 million followers on Instagram) and connection to the Gen Z demographic can’t be ignored. She’s also a streetwear enthusiast who, like Kloss, fits the mold of an Adidas consumer.
“While athletes continue to be effective endorsers for athletic brands, the rise of athleisure and glamorization of ‘regular’ workouts — through SoulCycle or even gym selfies — has opened up a tremendous playing field for sportswear,” said Alexa Tonner, cofounder of influencer marketing agency Collectively. “For the average consumer, and especially a female consumer, Kendall’s workout style is both more relatable and more aspirational than that of a pro athlete.”
Jill Manoff contributed reporting to this article.