They are maxims of the 21st century: We live in ever-smaller tribes; mass media is dead; nobody strays outside of their peer group or social network any more. But what if conventional wisdom is wrong? What if people are actually crossing cultural lines more than ever?
Adidas, the Herzogenaurach, Germany-based footwear company, sure hopes that's the case: The largest marketing campaign in that company's history, which kicked off across the globe this week, is predicated on that assumption.
For the last few years, adidas has been building connections with three different communities: athletes, skate kids, and fans of fashion and music. "We were basically telling stories on an individual basis, reaching out to those targets," says Jeff Cooper, director of marketing for adidas Canada. "But we weren't pulling it all together and becoming meaningful and saying who we are and what we are, and that we're relevant to them not just in sport but in fashion and in lifestyle."
The month-long campaign, by the hot-shot Montreal-based agency Sid Lee, aims to bring those groups all together, throwing pop star Katy Perry, rapper B.O.B., Croatian high jumper Blanka Vlasic, soccer stars David Beckham and Lionel Messi, basketball star Derrick Rose, and music producer DJ Mehdi in a single commercial under the tagline, "Adidas is all in." The spot was directed by Romain Gravas (the Paris-based son of the filmmaker Costa-Gravas), who has shot videos for Mehdi and the singer M.I.A., and features the debut of the song Civilization by the French electro-pop group Justice, which is not due out until next month.
"Something that definitely came out of the research is the mashability of kids these days," says Lukas Derksen, vice-president of Sid Lee Montreal, who headed up the development of the campaign's creative. "If you look at kids these days, they mash everything up. They wear stuff that we intended for the court, on the pitch. Stuff that we intended to be style, they wear in the gym."
The campaign is directed at the brand's core consumers of 15- to 19-year-olds, who have helped propel the brand with their influence on trends. Sales of the adidas brand, which had fallen 3.8 per cent in 2009 to €7.5-billion ($10.3-billion), rose 15.8 per cent last year to €8.7-billion, helped in part by the company's high-profile (albeit costly) sponsorship of the FIFA World Cup.
The claim that "adidas is all in," of course, works in multiple ways. "Basically it's that whole concept that, when you're passionate about something, especially your game, you're all in, you put everything into it," Mr. Cooper says. Adidas also sees this as a way of differentiating its brand from Nike, whose aspirational tagline of "Just Do It," isn't too far from adidas's claim that its fans put their heart into whatever they're doing.
"I think the Nike brand has always been about the one hero, very individual," suggests Mr. Derksen. "The power of 'All In,'" he says, is "we're all in this together."
His staff at Sid Lee must be intimately familiar with that notion. Last year, the shop became the global agency of record for adidas, in part on the strength of the plan for the current campaign. The effort isn't just the largest ever by adidas; it is also, by far, the largest in the history of Sid Lee.
Planning for the campaign began about 18 months ago, and went into high gear last summer, after the World Cup. The goal was to capture, "the ultimate expression of any passion in any game - which is this unbridled emotion, this outcry of passion - after you've scored a goal, after you've just walked off the catwalk, after you dropped your first beat as a DJ," Mr. Derksen says. But capturing that on camera, they realized, couldn't be done in a studio. "We realized we needed to go out and shoot people in their real environment."
So they embarked on a tour of 12 cities around the world, "where we captured our friends, our athletes, the kids that are affiliated with the brand in their natural habitat - capture the raw, raw emotions."
"We went out there, putting things on camera in a really authentic setting," he adds.
The resulting creative campaign suggests that, if there isn't a single teen culture that straddles the globe, there's a unifying teen mindset.
"We spent an awful lot of time trying to figure out what the storyline is," Mr. Derksen says. "When we landed on this sort of 'unbridled emotions,' 'game faces' - this is a universal language. This speaks to a Chinese kid, this speaks to a French kid, this speaks to an American kid. And we all have this passion in common, and people relate to that passion."
Still, adidas will slightly change its creative executions, dropping in celebrities who are important within different territories.
"What we try to create with this big idea around a global brand is something that attaches to these universal truths and values," says Vito Piazza, managing director of Sid Lee Toronto. "Then we have to layer on top of that a local specificity with iconography, mentors, references. What's really interesting to see with some of the assets is, the globalization of icons and references is very true. Especially when you touch things like sports and music and arts, in culture and stuff like that, it's pretty amazing how things sort of emanate - how people connect to these things. It really happens on a global basis."
"We have a Chinese version which is 90 per cent the same as everywhere else in the world, but we included a couple of artists and athletes that are relevant in that market," Mr. Derksen adds. "And it fits seamlessly, because this emotion is universal. So you can replace an emotion from Messi with an emotion from Derrick Rose, because it's the same emotion."
WHAT 100 MILLION IMPRESSIONS LOOK LIKE
The large-scale adidas brand campaign that kicked off Wednesday aims to make 100 million impressions - hitting its target of 12-to-24-year-olds on average 7.4 times through television alone. "It's pretty damn unprecedented for Canada," said Alastair Taylor, vice-president and managing director of Carat Canada, which handled the buy. "We've never seen a client spend this much money in a month." (Adidas declined to disclose the campaign's cost.)
Here are some key elements of the media buy:
Media budget: The budget is being divided equally - one-third each - between traditional mass media (network and cable television), digital (websites) and out-of-home (billboards).
TV shows include: The Big Bang Theory (which, with 293,100 viewers in an average minute for people 12-24, boasts the highest viewership of all shows for the target audience), Glee, Survivor, Jersey Shore, The Amazing Race, America's Got Talent, House, Hockey Night in Canada, Vampire Diaries, The Simpsons, Dancing with the Stars, Desperate Housewives, Hawaii Five-O, Modern Family, Family Guy, How I Met Your Mother, Criminal Minds. Ads will also be seen on MuchMusic, Much on Demand, MTV, and MTV Live, and TSN and TSN2 during Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors games.
Digital includes: One-day takeovers of mass-appeal websites such as YouTube and MSN.ca, as well as niche sports sites NHL.com and TSN.ca, niche music sites MuchMusic.com. MTV.ca, and Vevo.com, and Facebook. On Wednesday alone, Carat said it made eight million impressions on YouTube.
Out-of-home buys: Include the brand's first takeover of three billboards at Yonge-Dundas Square in Toronto, as well as placement on two nearby LED screens running a pair of 30-second spots.
This article has been corrected from an earlier version to amend Mr. Cooper's title.