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How Kanye and influencer marketing help Adidas drive sales

Internet Retailing contributor, Alita Harvey-Rodriguez, dives into the newest collaboration between sportswear brand Adidas and rapper Kanye West. Plus three things to keep in mind when working with an influencer.

In his 2016 dis song, “Facts,” Kanye West, rapper/designer/producer/god, sings:

Yeezy, Yeezy, Yeezy just jumped over Jumpman  

This not-so-subtle insult invites a direct comparison between Nike’s iconic Air Jordan sneakers (the little silhouette figure on the shoes is known as Jumpman) and West’s own collaboration with Adidas on a clothing and footwear collection called Yeezy.

Yep! Kanye is known for being outspoken but can he really claim his sneakers are greater than Nike’s Air Jordans?

According to Forbes, Michael Jordan is the most marketable person in the US ahead of Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks and Bill Gates. And the man has been retired for 13 years! Last year the Air Jordan brand reached a whopping $3 billion in sales with a market share of 64 per cent in basketball related products. Adidas only holds a 2.3 per cent share of the same market. So how can Kanye possibly jump the Jumpman?

Adidas is a few steps behind archrival Nike, surprising investors in 2014 with a 15 per cent share drop and a mild profit warning, but the sportswear company is not ready to give up yet. Last month Adidas announced a collaboration with the American rapper, Adidas x Kanye West, worth a reported $10 million. The collaboration will be a separate business entity involving independent retail stores for men’s, women’s and kid’s clothing throughout the US.

Kanye has worked with Adidas twice in the past, designing the popular Yeezy Boost 750 and Yeezy Boost 350. Both sets of sneakers sold out in a matter of hours and still sell on secondary markets, such as eBay, for thousands of dollars. In fact, while researching, I only found preowned shoes selling for $1,500, compared to the original retail price of $280.

The deal with Kanye has boosted Adidas’ share in the sneaker market by 29 per cent. But Adidas still has a fair way to go to match Nike, which recently signed a lifetime deal with Lebron James that is rumored to make the basketball champion $1 billion before he is 64 years old.

One thing is clear: this isn’t a game of how pretty the sneaker is, it’s a game of names, or influencers as we call them in the marketing world. A powerful influencer can give a brand an identity, help it reach a larger audience and even help it reinvent itself. But it’s not as simple as just picking a celebrity with the most fans or followers.

Three things to keep in mind when working with an influencer:

  1. There needs to be a synergy between the influencer’s own personality and the ethos of the brand. For example, if Nike had picked Ophrah Winfrey to endorse its sneakers, I doubt Air Winfreys would have met the same success. But because they enlisted an all-star basketball player it was a match made in heaven.
  1. The influencer should already be active in the preferred method of marketing, whether it be social media, television or face-to-face. An influencer serves as a channel between buyer and seller and therefore must already be connected to the target audience for the endorsement to work.
  1. There is a real risk in relying on an influencer for marketing purposes, as their image can quickly deteriorate. Take Madonna’s 1989 stint with Pepsi. The soft drink company paid Madonna a whopping $5 million to appear in a series of ads which were initially positively received. But it was later forced to pull the ad and cut all ties with the singer after her “Like a Prayer” music video infuriated religious groups and was criticised by the Pope.

This brings me back to Kanye West. It’s going to be a bit harder for Adidas to cut ties if things go south. They have committed to building physical stores! But is he too risky? I mean we are talking about a man who just recently released a film clip picturing the likes of George Bush, Caitlin Jenner and Taylor Swift naked in bed together. On the other hand, they say that any publicity is good publicity. Kanye has made a profit from controversy in the past, so there’s no reason Adidas can’t do the same. The man knows how to get people talking.

This deal is groundbreaking not just for Kanye and Adidas, but for the future of influencers in marketing altogether. The new alliance will make history as the most significant partnership between a non-athlete and sportswear brand and is sure to rewrite the future of influencer marketing.

Alita Harvey-Rodriguez is a leading Australian Digital Marketing Futurist and the brains behind Milk it Academy.

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