Adidas brand strategy / positioning case study

Adidas Brand Strategy Analysis

Apparel – sportswear

Owner of the brand:
Adidas AG

Key competitors:
Nike, Under Armour, Puma

Brand essence

Changing lives through sport.

Brand values

Passion, creativity, innovation, heritage.

Brand character

Authentic, passionate, inspirational, urban, creative.

Dominating archetype

Adidas was founded by Adolf Dassler and his brother Rudolf in Germany in 1924. The company was initially called the Dassler Brothers’ Shoe Factory (Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik[1]and was renamed as Adidas in the late 1940s, after the brothers split. Adolf Dassler remained in charge of Adidas, while Rudolf set up his own venture; ‘Ruda’ (from his name), which he later rebranded as Puma. Adidas, since its origin, has catered for the needs of professional athletes, particularly runners. Originally, the company specialized in making spiked footwear that used lighter materials than those used previously; rubber and canvas instead of metal. Adidas still often refers to its heritage, mainly to the story of the founder, and uses his beliefs as inspiration: commitment to athletes’ needs, focus on improving their performance and emphasis on craftsmanship (now supported by advanced technology) are still at the heart of Adidas’s strategy.


Adidas believes that “through sport, we have the power to change lives”[2] and therefore everything the brand does is rooted in sport (“The Badge of Sport”[3]). Adidas appears to have a slightly different point of view on sport than Nike – stricter, more serious and less forgiving. While Nike democratizes sport and believes everyone can be an athlete, Adidas focuses on performance and praises people, who have achieved something in life and who keep on mastering their craft, leaving little room for amateurism (mostly athletes but also artists). 


The uniqueness of Adidas’s brand strategy lies in its focus on creativity. This is an aspect that allows the brand to differentiate itself clearly from its biggest competitor, Nike. Adidas sees itself as a constant innovator, operating at the border between sport and creativity[4], perceives sport as a tool for self-creation and emphasizes the importance of creativity in sport in its communication (e.g., “Calling all Creators”). Even the company’s business strategy is called “Creating the New”[5]. Adidas’s focus on creativity is apparent in the positioning and marketing of its lifestyle sub-brand, Adidas Originals. Adidas Originals is associated with authenticity, “contemporary youth culture”[6] and creativity. Although at product level, it is a sportswear line, at brand level, it more resembles a fashion label.


Adidas’s strategic plan, which will be followed until 2020, is built on three pillars: speed, cities and open source[7]“Speed” refers to several activities undertaken by Adidas to make the company quicker at delivering products to the market (e.g., improved distribution, a stronger focus on e-commerce and a revised product strategy, i.e., fewer models but available in more colours- so production processes are faster). The second part of the plan, “cities” solidifies the company’s focus on big cities, in particular London, Los Angeles, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo. These six centres are where Adidas intends to “over-proportionally grow share of mind, share of market and share of trend[8]The final element of the plan, “open source”, assumes a collaborative way of working with athletes, artists, consumers and partners so they can co-create the future of the brand (e.g., through existing long-term partnerships with Kanye West, Stella McCartney and Pharrell Williams etc.).


For some time now, Adidas has been building its brand equity on the Creator archetype, presenting itself as a creator and emphasizing the importance of creativity in sport. However, as with almost every sportswear brand, it also promotes the Hero narrative by focusing on performance, being the best and achieving the impossible.

Most important campaigns

1. “Dear Sports, Listen Up! Golf is Here To Create.” (2019)

2. “Here To Create Change” (2018)

3. “Unleash Your Creativity” (2017)

4. “Sport Needs Creators” (2016)

5. Adidas Originals – “Your Future Is Not Mine” (2016).


Official brand statement:

Inspired by our heritage, we push the boundaries of culture and human performance. Through sport, we have the power to change lives.”[9] 

Interesting facts:

The three stripes, the ubiquitous symbol of the Adidas brand, was not invented by the Adidas team. The company, in 1951, before it was well known, bought the trademark from Karhu, a Finish sportswear brand, for what is now the equivalent of €1600 and two bottles of whiskey.[10]


1. Brandchannel on why Adidas focuses on creativity
S. Shayon, “For Adidas, Creativity Is The Pulsating, Risk-Taking Heart Of Its Brand”, Brandchannel, Jul 2018,

2. Adweek on the “Here to create” campaign
E. Oster, “Adidas Brings Superstars Like Lionel Messi and Karlie Kloss Together for a Feast in Its Latest Spot”, Adweek, Dec 2017,

3. Interview with Adidas CEO
E. E. Jervell, “Adidas CEO Reflects On His Game Plan After 15 Years”, The Wall Street Journal, Aug 2016,


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