Campaign watch: Adidas realises the perils of playing it safe

by Samantha Waterworth

It’s a lesson marketers can’t forget – every action (or indeed inaction) a brand makes has consequences…

They’ve done it again. Students from the renowned German Film Academy of Baden-Württemberg – the school that produced the breathtaking ‘Dear Brother’ for Johnnie Walker and the charismatic ‘ABC of Death’ for Volvo – have unveiled an emotion-packed clip that places storytelling at the heart of brand advertising.

The student-made Adidas video ‘Break Free’, written and directed by Eugen Merher, follows the daily frustrations of an elderly gent and former marathon runner living out his days in a bleak retirement home.

The film splices intricate details (such as a soccer game involving East Germany – a club which hasn’t existed for over 25 years) and evocative music to tell the tale of the protagonist’s journey to freedom — all sparked by a well-worn pair of shoes.

See for yourself:

Published to Merher’s YouTube account in mid-December 2016, the video has since garnered more than 11 million views and continues to trend on the site.

“We tried sending it to [Adidas’] communications department but they didn’t really react,” Merher recently shared.

“They said that they didn’t support the work because they get lots of these kinds of requests, they already have their agencies, and they don’t really need it. I’m not sure if they even watched it, but we sent an email before production and afterward,” Merher added in a subsequent interview.

While Adidas does benefit in the brand awareness department, one can’t help but view this as a missed opportunity for developing brand sentiment.

If the spot had been taken up by Adidas the brand would not only be declaring its support for the little guy, it would also be claiming that the spirit of the ad – freedom and determination– are values the brand stands for. Through a lack of acknowledgment of the clip, Adidas has (perhaps unwittingly) achieved the exact opposite.

On his inspiration for the story, Merher recently shared the following:

“I had a distant relative who passed away last year, and he was the main inspiration. He was an old man with a very young spirit who used to walk two kilometres every day and bring his wife flowers, was very up on the news and loved to watch basketball. I combined him with the idea that running or playing sports makes you feel free, because that’s what I’ve always thought.”

While the clip might not show off the latest Adidas product, it works on another dimension – portraying the brand as an inspiring force for good through its impetus for fundamental change in the protagonist’s life.

Will Adidas’ communications team come to rue the day they chose inaction over action? Have your say in the comments section below. 

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