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For most of its history, adidas has relied on its innovative and technical capabilities. That is, its distinctive claim has been that it designs shoes that are better suited to the needs and demands of athletes than any other company. But relying exclusively on these assertions has proved insufficient for appealing to consumers broadly. Rather, rivals such as Nike and Under Armor have been attracting buyers by offering image-based appeals and brand images. The solution that adidas recently has devised to these competitive challenges seeks to combine both appeals: It is not rejecting its essential advantage but rather is working to combine its high-tech efforts to improve sneakers with a cutting-edge image, relying on the assistance of a well-known spokesperson.

MHHE006619-SThe Boost shoe line specifically emphasizes the radically new plastic used in the soles of the shoes, which adidas promises will offer athletes more explosive jumps and better spring as they run. Despite this main emphasis, most consumers likely are paying a bit more attention to the name of the person designing and wearing several of the products in this shoe line: Kanye West.

West entered into an agreement with adidas after he was spotted wearing Boost sneakers. He already has designed several lines of clothing and shoes, including three iterations of the “Yeezy Boost.” He modeled his latest shoes in the most recent Fashion Week in New York, and he continues to sport them in the pictures that fill various media outlets.

To capitalize on the trendiness and appeal of West’s participation, adidas is purposefully minimizing the production runs of the Yeezy Boost, manufacturing fewer shoes than it predicts customers will demand. Therefore, some people seeking the shoes will not be able to purchase them, which may increase the coolness factor. Adidas also hopes it leads those seeking the Yeezy line to consider purchasing one of the other Boost models. The tactic already has led to lines of customers outside stores, waiting to purchase the $200 footwear.

Adidas also recognizes both the benefits and the potential concerns surrounding a close relationship with a public figure as controversial as West. He provides some credibility and a modern, cutting-edge image. But West also is known for his strong statements of opinion (and marriage to Kim Kardashian), which could run counter to adidas’s strong image as a well-established provider of well-designed, athletically focused gear.

The potential conflict is a primary reason that adidas continues to highlight the Boost technology as the main benefit that consumers can obtain if they buy the shoes. People might visit stores or the online adidas site because they want to look like Yeezy, but adidas hopes they will continue buying because the shoes help them run like the wind.

Discussion Question:

Is a collaboration with Kanye West an appropriate choice for adidas? Why or why not?

Source: Ellen Emmerentz Jervell, “Adidas Puts Some Spring in its Step,” The Wall Street Journal, August 20, 2015