Adidas’ Lesson-Know Your Brand and Avoid Cluelessness

I often think that people are much too politically correct these days. But in the case of the sneaker snafu by Adidas, I’m drawing a line in the PC sand. News broke on June 19, 2012 that because of widespread social-media criticism after advertising a new sneaker on its Facebook page, the sports apparel maker shelved its plans to sell a sneaker featuring rubber shackles that attach to the ankles.

This is a prime example of a “what were they thinking?” brand moment. Reaction to the shoe ad was swift and predictable. The image of slavery that the shoe conjures was unmistakable. There was even talk of a boycott of the shoe and Adidas, led by Rev. Jesse Jackson, if the shoe went to market.

All of this is a roundhouse right to the Adidas brand. It’s obvious that the marketing team—sitting at the conference table looking at product shots of the shoe—was totally clueless as to the significance of the shackles. Or, were they determined to launch a shoe that had an edge to it? In response to the public outrage, Adidas pointed out the sneaker’s designer, Jeremy Scott, as having a “quirky” and “lighthearted” style. Is that the image Adidas wants to project?

The other day I had a conversation with Mike Herman, CEO of research firm Communication Sciences, about rebranding strategies. Herman told me that it’s important that companies remain true to their original brand attributes. But, you have know what those attributes are. It’s very possible that there’s some confusion inside Adidas as to what its brand stands for, and where it wants to go.

But even that shortcoming doesn’t excuse the company for just being clueless.

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