The summer of 2016 has been a busy one for Adidas Football. The brand sponsored both Copa America 2016 and UEFA Euro 2016, using the huge global platform they presented to launch its latest campaign, First Never Follows.
Flo Alt, director of brand communications at Adidas Football, talked recently to CMO.com about why the goal of being the most shareable brand at both tournaments demanded faith and patience, and why keeping his finger on the pulse with the brand’s fickle core teenage audience is an ongoing challenge. But he began by discussing how Adidas Football’s target market has evolved.
Alt: Over the last four years we have looked at our core audience and tried to rein in who we want to speak to and who our target consumer is, laser-focusing on our key influencers. The target is now slightly broader than it was in the past.
Our target consumer today is a 16/17-year-old boy who loves football 24/7, 365 days a year, from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed. Football drives his mind and is everything he is really interested in. That doesn’t mean just the 90 minutes he spends watching or playing or training. He is also interested in finding out the latest news in football, which player is transferred where, which clubs have signed new coaches, new game tactics, the latest products on the market and innovations in the game, as well as gaming, such as EA and FIFA. He is interested in anything that relates to the game of football. Internally we call him a “football creator.”
At the beginning of 2015, we began to take a more cultural insight into our campaign creation. These 16/17-year-old kids are often also at a turning point in their lives: some may be pushing for a career as a pro footballer, many might have their first girlfriend, or be buying their first car, and music also plays a huge role in their lives. A lot of other elements drive the behaviour of those kids, and this all helps us to craft and build a campaign aimed at their mindset and in the right tone of voice to ensure it resonates with them.
CMO.com: How did a sharper focus on your audience inform the First Never Follows campaign at both Copa America 2016 and UEFA Euro 2016?
Alt: One key insight we discovered about these creators was that, by nature, these kids want to be first—they want to be the first to know about which player transfers where and which boots will be introduced to the marketplace. Then they want to be the first to have those boots and the first to have content that they can share with their peer group. It is deeply ingrained in their personality. It helps to reconfirm their status as the leader of their peer group. These are really influential kids, and all the other kids look up to them for their style, their football boots, and the music they are listening to, for example. By being first you are setting a trend, not following. That is how we arrived at the campaign idea, First Never Follows.
CMO.com: How did the campaign take shape?
Alt: When we arrive at a new idea like First Never Follows, we look at how we can bring this to life in all the different marketing disciplines—how does it look in retail, for example, and how can we make it work visually? Nowadays it is also important to understand how people will identify with concepts in the social space.
We used both tournaments to set out what Adidas Football means and what it stands for when it says First Never Follows. We picked moments that were key “first” moments during both tournaments—like French footballer Paul Pogba’s first goal—and we celebrated these in our campaign through Adidas’s social media platforms.
Apart from picking moments that actually happened on the field of play, we also looked to challenge ourselves at Adidas in Germany to come up with “first” execution experiences that no one has ever done before.
For example, during UEFA Euro 2016 we introduced two “first” activations. The first was referred to as the post-game player portrait. At selected games we had a photographer pitch-side after the match, and we picked one player who’d had an outstanding game or moment in the game, and we were able to capture that player straight after the final whistle. The image was immediately posted on our social media. We saw a huge take-up, and it contributed massively to our shareability target. If you have rich content at the right moment, when kids are in the mood and willing to share, it works. It is something that delivered well against our KPIs—a true “first” moment.
Another first during UEFA Euro 2016 was the broadcast of highlights footage on our social media channels, such as YouTube. We were the only sponsor able to access highlights footage from the actual match day. It was carefully selected from the day’s game and packaged up and broadcast at midnight, and because it was so topical, there was a high chance our target audience would share it with friends and spread the word. It was something no one else could do because of our sponsor rights.
CMO.com: How are you measuring the success of the First Never Follows campaign?
Alt: We set ourselves the target of becoming the most shareable brand for the four-week duration of both Copa America 2016 and UEFA Euro 2016. We wanted to emerge from both tournaments as the brand that got the most shares among the target audience—not just compared to our competitor brands but to other sponsors like Coca-Cola. We achieved that, accumulating 1.61 million shares across Twitter (retweets), Facebook (shares), YouTube (direct shares and shares to other social platforms), Instagram (user tags), and online media (shares to social platforms). During the UEFA Euro 2016 tournament in particular, Adidas dominated the daily share volume for 27 of 30 days. This resulted in a total of 1.17 million shares, which was more than twice the number of the next biggest brand.
Our share of voice, in terms of hashtag usage, was also seven times higher than that of the next best brand. In total, Adidas received 685k hashtag mentions across Instagram and Twitter, making us the most visible brand.
Going forward, and more broadly, the ultimate goal is a combination of NPS (Net Promoter Score), backed up by a commercial target, so making sure lots of people get to see the latest boots, the Mercury Pack, and encouraging them to purchase those and tell their friends.
CMO.com: What is the secret of reaching this young male audience?
Alt: It is about finding a true insight that really resonates with these kids and isn’t a gimmick or something we made up because we thought it could be cool. The magic formula is finding something that will prompt the target consumer to say “Yes, that is exactly how I feel or exactly what makes me tick. Adidas got it right.” That way they really want to interact with the content and listen further to what we have to say as a brand, and they want to share it with their peer group.
Kids move on to new things on a daily basis, so keeping our finger on the pulse as a brand and continually checking in on what they are talking about and the tone of voice they are using is one of the biggest challenges we face.
CMO.com: How do you keep your finger on that pulse?
Alt: As of this season, we are investing much more in one-to-one conversations with these kids, opinion leaders, and influencers in the dark web or dark social, using platforms such as WhatsApp and Snapchat. These allow us to have real-time conversations with key creators.
We are also building communities in key cities all over Europe that will allow us to develop one-to-one relationships with these kids face to face, and therefore have a direct link to what they think and do and talk about. These squads are being created through an invite-only mechanic—we identify the right people and bring them into the journey we are on. We use this to refine and cross-check our marketing approach and, in the true spirit of open source, we share our next product with them, explaining where it is going from a design point of view and letting them know they have a proactive role in shaping the future of football. We have a very good and close connection with those kids, which helps us to be on-trend and move with the times. Greater one-to-one marketing with this audience is hugely important going forward.
CMO.com: What lessons did you learn in putting this campaign together?
Alt: One key lesson was that if you have a game plan in place, stick to it, don’t become nervous if things don’t pay out in the first couple of days or weeks. When I talk about being the most shareable brand, I think it is fair to say that, in the first one to two weeks of both tournaments, we played catch-up with our competitors a little, but we knew what our strategy was, and we knew what we had in the pipeline, and where we wanted to get to. Towards the end of both tournaments we saw the positive momentum continue to grow and, by their close, we were the most shareable brand.
It was a huge lesson for us—stick to the plan, but carefully review and analyse how we are tracking against our KPIs on a day-by-day basis. Based on those results we did some tweaks and twists here and there. It is not perfect yet, but there are other lessons that we can take on board in time for the World Cup in 2018.
CMO.com: How does First Never Follows fit into Adidas’s wider communications strategy?
Alt: We follow our own brand strategy, but we reflect Adidas and its ethos. Adidas is an open-source company wanting to interact and engage with its consumers and to co-create and adjust as it goes along. That is definitely something we want to do at Adidas Football too. We are guided in one direction to understand kids and how their minds work, and we have the courage to co-develop something and to evolve something that really resonates with the kids. Listening and being agile is something the whole brand embraces, not just Adidas Football.