Adidas Calls the Shots

NEW YORK A high schooler walks down a harshly lit dormitory hall at UCLA, where he thinks he’s attending a run-of-the-mill, Adidas-sponsored summer basketball camp for gifted players. Reaching his room, he’s dumbstruck to discover that soon-to-be Boston Celtic forward Kevin Garnett is waiting for him. “I’ll take the top bunk, OK?” Garnett says. The boy, still speechless, gestures his assent.

The Webisode, “Be Yourself,” is one of 11 produced at the weeklong, onetime clinic for Adidas’ “Basketball is a brotherhood” campaign. Directed by HSI’s Paul Hunter and edited by Rock Paper Scissors, the series was created by Omnicom’s 180 for the brand’s Team Signature product line—tagline: “Impossible is nothing”—it launched mid-October as a follow-up to last year’s “It takes five” campaign. Both emphasize the game’s team aspects rather than individual personalities.

Although the integrated effort includes a variety of elements, mobile is playing a rare front-and-center role. According to 180 ecd William Gelner, proprietary research revealed that the young basketball enthusiast is an interactive, mobile phone fanatic. Also, he explains, “texting is a way to further engage consumers into the notion of brotherhood.”

Text codes can be found on the TV commercial. There is one spot with six different codes to text players, so which code (and therefore which player) is texted depends on the game being watched and markets the spot is running in. They also appear on print ads and in-store advertising. Text codes at point-of-sale include info about the products. There’s even a text code (“Hear from KG. Text K to 234327”) on the Garnett-graced cover of the Oct. 15 issue of Slam magazine.

The players being texted call back with prerecorded messages. Once consumers sign up on, the return calls get more personal, with, say, a player now using the texter’s actual name and directing them to the Webisodes. Consumers can also download answering machine messages created by the pros as well as receive inspirational calls. (One reminds the listener that when a point is scored, he’s seen a team at work, rather than an individual player.)

Ryan Morland, global communications director of basketball at Adidas, declined to give the cost of the campaign, but says that out of five categories, basketball gear will get most of Adidas’ ad spend in 2008 and 2009. He sees text messaging as a sort of lingua franca that will help the brand penetrate Asia and Europe, where mobile phone usage is higher than in the U.S. “We’ve seen a [basketball] boom in Asia,” Morland notes. “In China, there are 300 million basketball enthusiasts.”

Morland adds that the idea to have the creative emphasize teamwork has a lot to do with the surplus of signature shoe and apparel lines offered by the major manufacturers. “That game has been played out,” he says. “So we found a point of difference.”

According to Gelner, the casual, documentary texture and unscripted dialogue of the Webisodes represent a dramatic change in the category’s marketing tone, which he says tends to be about individual play. (Witness the glass-busting slam dunk sometimes bolstered by computer-generated effects to up the fantasy.)

The summer camp was a way to further “dimensionalize the notion of team,” Gelner says. “Something immeasurably more interesting came out of this than ‘copy.’ This is not just an ad campaign, it’s derived from real life, something that really happened.”