Bleached white. Made from cotton. Named ‘Uncaged’. Even a novice marketer would struggle to deem the latest sneaker in the Adidas Ultraboost range to be an appropriate inlay to Black History Month for the German brand.
It seems, however, that nobody in the room saw the blatantly obvious flaw to their newest product throughout the development phase. More worryingly, there seems to be little linking the ‘Uncaged’ sneaker to black history or culture besides a hunger to maximise sales throughout Black History Month.
As outlined in Sarah Vizard’s recent column, an increasing number of brands are being incentivised to create inclusive products and marketing. Whether it be increased sales, free advertising space or glitzy award ceremonies, brands seemingly require an incentive beyond having a positive influence on society or helping a particular cause.
Adidas has taken the ‘bullet’ on this occasion. Yet, they are not the only brand to have piggybacked on a political, social or economical cause with their purpose being mirky to say the least. This is as involvement in social movements has become a pivotal part of ‘earned media’, whether the brand in question has a long-term and coherent belief in the cause or not.
Such an example is Iceland, a UK supermarket whose Christmas campaign highlighted the environmental impact of palm oil in our foods. With the launch of their ‘Rang-tan friendly’ campaign, they pledged to stop using palm oil in its own-brand products by the end of the year. In January, however, the BBC found that 28 own-brand products containing palm oil were still available from the supermarket.
Caroline Hipperson, Holland & Barrett’s CMO, recently pointed out that brands need to live and breathe their messaging. I would go a step further and say that brands must have a ‘give and take’ approach, in which their involvement with a particular cause is mutually beneficial.
As consumers become more aware of the marketing tactics used by Adidas, Iceland and other brands, the backlash will only become greater. Whilst established brands are able to withstand this in most cases, rising brands are not. An impulsive decision to piggyback on a political, social or economical cause could therefore be detrimental as well as unethical.