Adidas ‘largest marketing campaign in history’ brand hip-hop

Ali Breland

Ever since Adidas’ contested and innovative sponsorship of Run DMC in 1986, it has been apparent that the company’s brand is explicitly attempting to permeate hip-hop and urban cultures. The move was praised by advertisers and questioned by hip-hop purists. While the entire sneaker and sports apparel industry has been historically linked to urban sub-culture, few have made the link so directly as Adidas has recently.

Last spring, Adidas launched its “largest marketing campaign in history,” that began with a series of ads running under the “All In Label.” What was particularly interesting was that these ads didn’t feature athletes like Lebron James or Derrick Rose, as would be expected of an athletic footwear company. Instead, the focus of the videos were broken into different sectors from sports to culture, with an emphasis on hip-hop. The video featured Snoop Dogg and B.o.B. with cameos by Odd Future’s Hodgy Beats and Domo Genesis. This is interesting on two levels: Adidas’ refocused branding and the potential corporatization of hip-hop beyond music.

Let it be clear that hip-hop has already been bought and sold for all that its worth; even so, many artists are still able to maintain their own air of originality. Each MC, DJ or collective carries its own nuanced preferences and proclivities, sartorially and otherwise. Rappers generally have only stuck to certain apparel brands out of a loyalty that is independent of monetary influence, or as a result of collaborations with the brand. Jay-Z championing his own Rocawear brand, and Questlove’s Dunk collaboration with Nike illustrate this. Other instances have included rappers starting their own clothing brands.

Granted, there are exceptions to these general norms, but they are few and far between. Adidas’ current movements may threaten that. Adidas’ retooled ad campaign isn’t just limited to the “All In” series. They have been rather covertly sponsoring various rappers and tours like Murs’ 2011 tour.

All of the artists touring with Murs have been outfitted with complimentary Adidas gear. While the relationship is not a tightly held secret, Adidas is evidently doing its best to keep its role low key. A simple Google search reveals that the only mention of Adidas sponsoring Murs is from the artists mentioning it themselves in interviews. Furthermore, the shows have no explicit evidence of Adidas sponsorships. This isn’t usually the case with corporate sponsorship, as brands try to plaster their logos everywhere. Any sporting or general event with advertisers exemplifies this.

At Fun Fun Fun Fest this past year, rapper Del The Funky Homosapien took the stage in an oversized black t-shirt with a massive Adidas logo in the middle. While he could have very well worn the shirt entirely of his own accord, the instance is rather curious. It isn’t often that rappers wear mainstream logos on their shirts. In fact, they usually opt for more plain or ambiguous T-shirts, Del especially.

Furthermore, the logo was Adidas’ specific Adidas Original logo, designed to represent the more stylistic and cultural side of the brand — rather than the performance side — which uses a different logo entirely. It is strange that Del would first do something as uncharacteristic as wear a shirt with a massive logo on it, with the specific logo representing cultural elements of the brand.

While Adidas deserves to be lauded for their intelligently placed and marketed advertising, they are doing something very dangerous for hip-hop and music in general. Paying artists to wear clothes on stage robs music of an integral portion of what it is supposed to convey: the image. Whatever the image may be, it isn’t just seen through the music, but the visual aesthetic the artist provides. Having rappers and musicians wear strategically placed logos is reminiscent of Nascar drivers in their neat little flame retardant jumpsuits, with logos smattered all across their clothing, and everyone knows how boring Nascar is. A movement into an age where rappers and musicians are paid to wear specific, pre-coordinated outfits would be extremely sad, and the moves Adidas is making aren’t doing anything to avoid that reality. 

Printed on Wednesday, November 16, 2011 as: Adidas' marketing campaign taps into hip-hop, urban scene.