2015’s first quarter brought grave news for international sportswear giant Adidas. The German brand was losing market share in the United States and had given up its spot as second-biggest stateside sportswear supplier to Under Armour, a domestic upstart that is only 20 years old this year. It was clear that changes needed to be made, and the company started by hiring Mark King as its North American president.
That proved to be a wise choice. Thanks to the changes King has implemented, Adidas regained its lead last week less than two years after losing it. The journey it took to reach that point, though, was anything but short. Since 2015, Adidas has completely repositioned itself in the North American market, ensuring its financial resurgence by cementing itself as an almost excessively relevant name not only in contemporary American sportswear, but in culture as well.
When Under Armour overtook it, Adidas had a major problem with its image. It was relying heavily on its European heritage to sell, and American consumers were not particularly interested. The classic silhouettes, like the Samba and the Gazelle, had a bit of cult appeal, but were seen as outdated. There were no outstanding marketing campaigns, nor were there any exciting collaborations or innovations.
The sneaker market as a whole, though, was experiencing a profound shift. Consumers were responding more to two types of sneakers: sleek, lightweight running shoes that could be worn casually, and minimalist leather tennis shoes that could be dressed up or down. Demand for the former had been spurred by Nike’s Roshe Run and Flyknit models, and the latter was popularized by shoes like the Common Projects Achilles. There was a shortage of both variety and competitive pricing in these areas, and Adidas struck out with impeccable efficiency.
To cater to the first market, Adidas pushed hard on shoes like the Ultra Boost and the NMD which released in an incredible number of colorways, as well as its wildly popular second collaboration with Kanye West, the YEEZY Boost 350. The leather sneaker situation was met with an easy fix. The now-ubiquitous Stan Smith, the signature shoe of the legendary tennis player, had been pulled from shelves in 2012. Following its reintroduction in 2014, Adidas marketed it as a historical icon that meshed with modern trends of minimalism. The mainly-white shoe, with its relatively subtle branding and unmistakable green accents, resonated with modern consumers, and with its sub-$100 price point, it became an instant hit.
These marketing tactics were not only timed well, but they discarded the Eurocentric attitude that the company had held for years. Creating hype around an American hip-hop star’s collaboration, as well as reintroducing a Californian tennis player’s timeless signature, had a great deal of global appeal, but were instrumental in reinstating Adidas as a household name in America. Today, Adidas does not feel like a European brand, and that change is deliberate. The opening of the company’s first production facility on American soil is emblematic of the gargantuan effort to climb back to number two, and if trends continue, top brand Nike will have much to worry about.
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