As a self-proclaimed sneakerhead, one of the Cannes Lions talks I eagerly looked forward to was ‘How Adidas never finishes reinventing itself’. More so because the illustrious panel included Stan Smith – the legendary tennis player whose name is an iconic shoe/fashion brand, thanks to Adidas. The others were Paul Gaudio, global creative director of the brand and Alexander Wang, noted American fashion designer known for his urban designs.
One of the first things that struck me about their discussion is how creating a culture is so important for success. No surprise there. It reminded me of Peter Drucker’s “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” quote and how within agencies, culture is oft cited but rarely created. Because creating that environment takes passion, perseverance and persuasion.
Adidas, for instance, created a culture with its line of Adidas Originals (that Stan Smith is part of). Shoes that were more than just shoes, but design and cultural icons in their own right. Shoes that weren’t part of a monolithic identity. Shoes that not just fit your foot, but your life story. Because, hey, who doesn’t covet originality?
Forget shoes for a moment. An unoriginal idea, no matter how engaging or strategically sound, will struggle to make it out - to be noticed, admired or respected. Originality today, has become a self-preservation mechanism. Our single-minded pursuit of originality is simply the surest way of keeping our reputation untainted. And ensuring that reputation shines forth in every way possible.
The world of Marketing/Advertising has occasional parallels with the art world, and most modern artists are as obsessed with originality as we are. Because originality is the yardstick against which most art is measured, it made perfect sense for a brand like (Adidas) Originals to tie-up with a designer like Alexander Wang. Because he appropriated the brand and fashioned it anew – going to the extent of turning the brand’s trefoil logo upside down. And this was lapped up by the brand’s followers – because it signaled ‘disruption, defiance and deconstruction’ – in other words, originality.
After all, as Coco Chanel said, “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different.” That’s pretty much why a Stan Smith is no longer just the plain white leather performance shoe it started out as (though that’s still available). It comes in various colours, designs, special editions – all signaling originality in its many avatars.
So there. Keeping the muscle of originality well toned means we continually find new ways to engage with consumers, new ways to keep advertising palatable to society and new ways to differentiate products and brands. That’s what Adidas Originals did. And I’m all for keeping it that way.
(Sambit Mohanty is the national creative director at JWT India, based out of the agency's Delhi office.)