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Sportswear company Adidas was founded by a Bavarian, Adolf Dassler. The brand name comes from his nickname, Adi Dassler. Born in 1900, Dassler was a cobbler, as well as an enthusiastic athlete. He created his first sports shoe in 1920, from the back office of a local laundry where he first set up shop.
Dassler’s personal characteristics of attention to detail, perseverance and listening to the customer, encapsulated by his catchphrase “Listen, test, modify”, live on in the brand today. He was so committed to integrating product feedback into the manufacturing process that he travelled extensively to meet athletes in their training environments and question them on their needs and gripes.
This dedication earned him the respect and trust of athletes, beginning a long association with top sportspeople who were keen to wear his brand’s shoes. One of the earliest athletes to win a gold medal in them was German runner Lina Radke, who won the inaugural women’s 800m at the Olympic Games in Amsterdam in 1928; US star Jesse Owens was another, winning four golds in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics.
The ambassadorial tradition continues today, with footballers David Beckham and Zinedine Zidane, golfer Sergio Garcia, sprinter Maurice Green and the New Zealand All Blacks rugby squad among the high-profile sportspeople and organisations of recent years keen to forge an association with Adidas. Lately, in a bid to compete with its ‘cooler’ competitor Nike, Adidas has looked beyond sports and recruited as ambassadors figures such as pop stars Kanye West and Rita Ora and designer Stella McCartney.
Dassler also instilled in the company a pioneering spirit. During his career, he was awarded more than 700 patents and other rights on the back of his talent for inventing new features to enhance performance – for example, spiked track and field shoes, and shoes which allow for ventilation.
However, one of his most famous and successful innovations was the invention of screw-in studs on football boots, which meant players’ regular boots could be adapted for any weather conditions. These were credited, in part, for the West German football team’s 3-2 victory over the favourite, Hungary, in the 1954 World Cup final.
In 1967, Adidas branched out of its heartland shoe-making business, into the manufacture of sports clothing – initially, a tracksuit. This bore the triple stripe now synonymous with the brand, which had made its debut in 1949 and is integral to its trefoil and three-bar logos. In 1970 Adidas diversified further – this time into equipment, with the launch of the Telstar, the official ball of the 1970 FIFA World Cup.
After Dassler’s death in 1978, his son Horst took charge of the company. However, Horst’s death, just nine years later, plunged Adidas into turmoil and financial crisis, leading to Robert Louis-Dreyfus eventually taking the reins as chief executive in 1993. Louis-Dreyfus brought clarity and restored the company’s direction. Two years later, he led Adidas through a floatation with a new slogan: “We knew then, we know now”.
By 2000, Adidas had launched a new lifestyle division, in 2005 it had disposed of Salomon (although it retained golfing products brand TaylorMade), and in early 2006 it completed its acquisition of rival Reebok. Nonetheless, the brand continued to find the global market challenging – in 2014 it ramped up marketing and gave marketers more responsibility and incentive to build the brand’s ‘cool’ credentials following a spate of profit warnings.
In 2015, Adidas revealed its five-year strategic plan would focus on the “Creating the New” attitude and the idea that, through sport, the brand can change lives. This strategy hinges on three pillars: fast decision-making; growth in key cities including New York, London and Tokyo; and constant sourcing of input from athletes, consumers and partners.
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Adi-Dassler-Strasse 1, 91074 Herzogenaurach, Germany
Hermann Deininger, chief marketing officer
Jocelyn Robiot, senior vice-president of brand management
Shane Jochum Vice-president of marketing
Max Van Den Doel Head of global sports marketing, Adidas International (Amsterdam)
Eric Liedtke, head of global brands