Opinion

Adidas ditching the IAAF shows brands have to be accountable

Sponsorship has long been seen as a golden opportunity for companies to leverage their own brands against a complementary one, writes Andy Hayes, managing director at Lambie-Nairn.

Adidas: the sportswear brand has reportedly cancelled its sponsorship of the IAAF
Adidas: the sportswear brand has reportedly cancelled its sponsorship of the IAAF

Sports sponsorship is an efficient and economical way to promote brands and products through an emotional environment.  Sports sponsorship has a glamorous appeal because fans’ passion means sports passion.

That’s on the plus side. But on the minus, a scandal can balloon and affect multiple brands.

As Warren Buffet said: ‘It takes years to build a reputation and minutes to ruin it. If you think about that you’ll do things differently’.

Organisations once deemed ‘too big to fail’ are finding fewer hiding places from public scrutiny: those responsible for the last financial crash have been exposed in books and films like The Big Short. Volkswagen and FIFA provided the big scandals last year, and now the IAAF has taken a tumble.

Brand, mission, values

Brands need to behave consistently, and in line with their policies. Adidas has a central belief, that ‘sport has the power to change lives’. This should inform everything it does, across all sports, from grass roots to professional levels, across the world and all platforms. So it should rightly be seen to take a hard line on doping.

The IAAF’s doping and corruption scandal is supposedly worse than at FIFA, where alleged corruption is ring-fenced to a few individuals and their greed at the top.

With the IAAF, the victims are the athletes cheated out of medals, and now those at the grass roots, as the IAAF will lose important funding. While Adidas cites its anti-doping policy now, the firm has not taken such a principled stance against FIFA, to whom it pays vastly more than to the IAAF. Plus Adidas was one of the few FIFA sponsors not to call for Sepp Blatter to step down.

Given Adidas’s willingness to continue supporting FIFA, this could have been an opportunity for Adidas to stand by the athletes, by supporting the IAAF and pressing for change from within.

We’ll see how this plays out but either way, brands need to take accountability, as power shifts to ordinary people. They need to understand that their brands are built through their actions and behaviours: it’s no longer just about what they say – and anyway they no longer control the conversation.

Thanks to the internet, ordinary people behaving in groups have the means to exert their ‘buying power’ on brands, and brands in turn can either lose by ignoring them, or win by doing the right thing.