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Superbrands case studies: Adidas

Originally published in Consumer Superbrands Volume IV, May 2001. The book reviews the UK's strongest consumer brands as judged by the independent Superbrands Council.

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Case study provided by the Superbrands organisation.


During the 1990s the UK sporting goods industry enjoyed a period of sustained growth. The market continues to be driven by two or three main brands plus a number of niche players although there continues to be market penetration by "traditional" fashion brands into the field of sport.

Within the UK, estimates show the sporting goods market commanded annual retail sales of £2.8bn during 2000. It is anticipated that these levels will be maintained, albeit in a rapidly consolidating retail sector, during 2001 and 2002.

Another legacy from the 1990s is the interest shown in sports brands by the nation's youth, where apparel and footwear are as likely to be worn in everyday life as on the sports field.


After the 1980s, when the brand experienced several years of declining sales, Adidas embarked on a strategy of improving the brand's image in the eyes of consumers. Robert Louis-Dreyfus, who became the owner of Adidas in 1992, oversaw the development of this strategy, along with a review of all operating procedures.

With the newly rejuvenated image, improvements in production efficiency, turnover and market share followed to establish Adidas as the market leader in sportswear apparel and the clear number two in sports footwear.

More recently, as the competition became increasingly fierce, it was necessary to defend this strong position through a sustained and significant marketing and communications programme. This investment placed Adidas among the top spending brands in the consumer marketplace in the late 1990s. This period also presented a different set of challenges. It became increasingly necessary to navigate a rapidly changing sports consuming market by targeting the wider youth segment (along with the sports participants) through a number of tailored marketing initiatives. This allowed Adidas to move into the new millennium in a position of strength relative to both sports competitors and emerging youth brands.

The brand continues to focus on and believe in a 'performance' philosophy. Practically, this means supporting the best athletes, teams and competitions across the globe. With this in mind there are currently partnerships being built with the likes of David Beckham (football), Zinedine Zidane (football), Sergio Garcia (golf), Ato Bolden (athletics), The New Zealand All Blacks (rugby), Real Madrid (football) and the reigning World and European football champions, France.

The brand has and will continue to have a long association with a number of sporting events. The 2000 Olympics in Sydney is the latest chapter in a rich history. This event also saw Adidas supply sportswear to the British Olympic Association for the fifth time (since the event was held in Los Angeles 1984). Football has been an important part of the Adidas sporting calendar. 1998 saw Adidas as an official sponsor of the World Cup in France and in June and July 2000 the brand was an official supplier to the European Football Championships that took place in the Benelux.


Adi Dassler, a cobbler from the village of Herzogenaurach, Bavaria, created the very first Adidas sports shoe in 1920. From humble beginnings the Adidas corporation expanded into a global company that has become synonymous with world sport. Many of the fundamental principles that the first shoes were built upon remain firmly rooted in the company philosophy today.

Dassler was an athlete as well as a shoemaker and applied his understanding to producing products for athletes that helped improve performance at the highest level of sports.

Dassler's efforts in the service of sport earned him more than 700 patents and other industrial property rights, many of them for revolutionary new products. The company was, and remains today, committed to acting on athletes' requirements and learning from them to develop better performance footwear and apparel.

Today, the phrase "listen, test, modify" which was first used by Dassler himself, remains the key to the company's research and development operation. Technical innovations included the world's first soccer shoe with screw-in spikes for track and field shoes. Since Adidas equipped the first athletes at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928, more than 800 world records and medals have been won by athletes using Adidas footwear and apparel at Olympic Games and World Championships.

The company's obsession for making the best performance products for athletes remains central to the brand's philosophy today.


Since the introduction of Dassler's first sports shoe in the 1920s, the Adidas brand has expanded to such an extent that products are now available for almost every sport.

Adidas designs both its apparel and footwear ranges with athletes' functional needs in mind. Design concepts begin with the athlete and as a result top competitors past and present confirm that Adidas equipment always takes into account the latest developments in modern technology.

In preparation for the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Adidas put its apparel and footwear through 18 months of athlete track and laboratory testing to ensure the best possible performance under extremes of heat and humidity. This process paid rich dividends during the 1996 Atlanta Olympics when, after a similar development period, Adidas athletes such as Steve Redgrave and Haile Gebreslassie (Ethiopia) achieved record breaking performances.

Recent developments

The Adidas Olympic range is the product of four years of research and testing using some of the world's best athletes. Energy maintenance is the aim with the resulting footwear and apparel being the most technologically advanced to date. Swimming is at the forefront of the new technology in the form of the Equipment Bodysuit, originally pioneered with top swimmers Paul Palmer and Sue Rolph (Great Britain). The bodysuit was further refined during 2000 with the help of world beating swimmer Ian Thorpe (Australia). There are now stroke-specific Equipment Bodysuits to ensure maximum comfort and fit for those competing in all swimming disciplines.

Track and field footwear has also been given the Equipment treatment. The Z-spike is a revolutionary new running spike. Shaped in a 'Z' form the spike grips the track rather than sinking into it. This reduces the drag effect of extracting the spike from the track, thereby saving valuable energy.

Other technological track and field advances include the Performance Plate. This feature, which lies in the soles of shoes helps replicate the speed benefits of metatarsal joint stiffness as found in cheetahs.

At Euro 2000 the world was introduced to the latest Predator football boot, Precision, as worn by David Beckham, Alessandro Del Piero, top scorer Patrick Kluivert and player of the tournament Zinedine Zidane. Once again, Adidas worked with these top players to ensure that the next incarnation of the Predator boot fully enhanced their natural ability.

The new strategic placing of the Predator rubber zones on the metatarsal and medial areas of the boot give greater accuracy and power to passes and shots and can impart more than 20% more swerve on a ball than a standard leather boot. The introduction of Exchangeable Traxion studs allows a player to customise the sole of the boot to differing pitch conditions.

As with its predecessors, the new boot is designed to fit the exact shape of the foot for exceptional comfort. This, coupled with the new technology, produces a product delivering even greater swerve, power and control. The official ball used during the Euro Championships was also supplied by Adidas. It is called the Equipment Silverstream.


Adidas is continuing to acknowledge communication's pivotal role in the ongoing success of the brand. Furthermore, Adidas is now committed to a totally integrated approach to all its marketing activity. This alignment will allow the brand to defend and grow its equity with confidence.

The most significant and public side to the set of activities is the high profile brand advertising. Recently, a number of key symbols and teams have featured in media rich campaigns targeted at both the sports and wider youth audiences. Adidas is committed to incorporating new and developing media into the mix, a strategy that has seen everything from giant 80-foot billboards to the internet being utilised to connect with the Adidas target audience.

Continuing sponsorship and support of some of the world's top athletes and teams has also helped Adidas successfully position itself as the brand of choice in sport.

Finally, there is an extensive grassroots sport program where Adidas, along with some of the nation's best coaches, help athletes of all ages get the most they can from their sport.

Brand values

The Adidas brand positioning is clear and distinct. Adidas has a genuine respect for sport and this is manifested in its obsession for making the best performance products for athletes.

The brand mission is quite simply to become the "best sports brand in the world" and the leading performance brand in all competing sporting goods categories.

This is achieved by producing the highest quality performance products at marketplace prices. Products will continue to be designed and developed to enhance the performance of all sports participants, irrespective of their age, gender or ability.

Things you didn't know

  • Adi Dassler trained as a baker but unable to find work, he set up a small shoemaking operation at the back of a local laundry.

  • The first workshop machine he installed was an ingenious man-powered trimmer made out of a bicycle and some left over wood.

  • Legendary American athlete Jesse Owen won four gold medals in a pair of Dassler track spikes during the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

  • Adi Dassler's brother, Rudolf, set up Puma in direct competition to Adidas. In Sydney 2000, Adidas supplied products for 26 out of the 28 Olympic sports (equestrian and sailing being the two exceptions).

  • David Beckham's 60 metre, halfway line goal during the 1997-1998 football season was scored in Predator boots he had borrowed from a fellow player. Adi Dassler developed the first ever screw-in stud for football boots.

    © 2002 Superbrands Ltd

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