What Adidas teaches us about leadership in brands

Brands are all about emotions.  Yes – emotions first, logic second.  The loyal supporters – fans, consumers or followers – are emotionally engaged with the brand story and will willingly give of their preference and pockets to their cherished brands.

But what happens when the brand does something the consumers don’t like – as has been the case of the All Black Jersey and their Corporate Supporter – Adidas. 

All Blacks are part of the Kiwi cultural DNA and therefore our core identity. And fans have been hugely upset by the fact that the All Blacks rugby jersey cost almost twice as much in NZ when much cheaper jerseys can be purchased off shore.  And then to add salt to the wound, NZ got removed from some of the sites so Kiwi fans couldn’t even do this! 

When fans start to feel taken for granted, “ripped off”, forgotten or disadvantaged in some way, then brand integrity is at stake big time and brand reputation comes under challenge.

With the Rugby World Cup just a few weeks away  – it‘s a real shame that a time when Adidas could have harnessed all the energy, positivity and good will of the people of New Zealand, they have gotten  themselves so much on the wrong side of the pitch.

But it still isn’t too late – ultimately brands are driven by people and as human beings we do “stuff up” from time to time.  The point is how quickly we are able to put things right.

The situation can still be recovered and turned around from being a permanent blight for Adidas or a bad aftertaste for the fans.  It can also be saved then from the  embarrassing history annuls of how not to do PR including   alienating  your fans and consumer base  at such a crtical time.

 The Adidas executives need to address the critical missing piece they seem to have consciously or unconsciously been blindsided by.These are the skills and competencies of emotional intelligence (EQ or EI).

You see no matter how logical, rational and cost effective – plausible or implausible – their arguments are, they are still operating at the level of the head.  For fans on the other hand, this has become an emotional issue.   Adidas executives need to draw on Einstein’s wisdom here – “The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.”

So dear Adidas executives, listen up.   Firstly, it’s never too late to say sorry, change your strategy and say okay – we stuffed up this time BUT here is what we are going to do to put it right with the fans.    Simply fronting up on TV to argue your entrenched case is not going to do it.  

On the other hand, putting it right for the Kiwi fans and showing some nobility of heart and spirit will see you right.  Yes – you may lose some money as will some of the retailers but what you will gain will far outweigh this in the annuls of time.  And Kiwis – you will find are forgiving and generous of heart and spirit when they have been heard and the right action has been honoured.

Jasbindar Singh is a leadership coach and an EQ /SQ specialist – www.sqconsulting.co.nz. You can also find her article on this topic in  Management magazine  ( March, 2011) which also has other fantastic coverage on leadership.

Photo source: Natasha Martin, Timaru Herald (thumbnail only)

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5 Responses to “What Adidas teaches us about leadership in brands”

  1. Yes, I also thought that this was such an example of lack of wisdom on the part of Addidas executives. Emotional intelligence to empathise with the emotion of fans plus enough experience and judgement to know the right thing to do in the situation for the right reasons.

    The human brain instantly identifies examples of percieved unfairness and reacts emotionally from the threat centre of the brain. This was such a mistake for Addidas to field such young, intellectually intelligent managers on the TV! Logic never trumps emotion and a sense of fairness; it is underpinned by it.

  2. Thanks Jasbindar for putting this issue succinctly and into perspective. Yes Adidas does need to engage with the NZ public at an emotional level. They still seem to have their minds on the profit!

  3. Great article Jasbindar. Unfortunately so much organisational argument put forward today is euphemistically couched as logic or necessity or whatever, when in fact it is nothing more than thinly veiled greed. If you look at many of the woes that beseige our world today you see that they are underpinned by greed.

    Einstein also said that “all that matters cannot be counted, and all that can be counted does not matter”.

  4. Topcat says:

    Good content and timing.
    What is even more alarming was their effort to justify the cost relative to their spend on sponsorship. This was basically saying that we pay the money for our brand marketing and by the way we just tag the cost to your clothes.

  5. Try supporting the Highlanders Rugby franchise in their soppy lime green jerseys! The stupidest marketing gaffe in rugby history was made last month by taking expert consultant advice and ‘refreshing’ the Highlanders brand, and for their last game at the much loved historic Carisbrook ground. In the parochial deep South, a commercial rugby franchise had dared to drop the proud blue and gold colours that enshrine the heart of the Province. The mistake was immediately obvious to all, (especially with the South African oppsition wearing the same blue as most of the crowd!)Everyone in Otago was appalled! But the leadership stubborness will now continue into next year, with contracts signed with the supplier that apparently cannot be broken. Obviously, it is the emotional contract with the fans/customers that needs to stay paramount in these cases. It’s hard to put a dollar value on long term customer loyalty and commitment, but it is disregarded by any organisation at its peril! The extra spin that this story puts on Jasbindar’s blog is that customer engagement and loyalty can easily be lost when we listen only to self serving ‘independent’ advisors. We must listen to and consider our customer/stakeholders perspectives as well.

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