Adidas has long been teaming with artists to sell shoes, particularly in hip-hop. But the shoe brand’s director of entertainment Jon Wexler wants to help artists from Big Sean to Justin Bieber market their music and tours too.
In its latest “Basketball Is Everything” commercial in early October, Chicago Bull Derrick Rose isn’t the only star in the 60-second spot. Rappers Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Common and Dom Kennedy all make cameos, a way for the No. 2 global athletic footwear brand to say thank you to the artists it has partnered with as frequently as the athletes who’ve been equally central to the success of its shoes.
Since Wexler was appointed the brand’s first global director of entertainment and influencer marketing in 2009, Adidas has been amping up its support of artists. A$AP Rocky, Hudson Mohawke, B.o.B and Pusha T are among the acts who’ve received promotional, tour and even synch licensing support from Adidas in the last two years alone.
“There’s a lot of one-way streets in working with the entertainment industry, but we like to have reciprocal relationships,” Wexler says. “So it’s important when we feature artists in our ads that we license their music as well — whether it’s ‘I’m Different’ from 2 Chainz or tracks from B.o.B or Big Sean, every single one has come back and said we helped make a difference in their sales during the campaign flights.”
Adidas’ relationships with artists become mutually beneficial in sectors like basketball and running, where it trails rival Nike, and apparel, with Bieber recently tapped as the face of the 2014 winter/spring NEO clothing collection. Big Sean has been a face of Adidas campaigns since 2011, before his debut, “Finally Famous,” was released, and has continued to work with the brand across ensuing TV spots and print ads as well as his own touring and philanthropic work in hometown Detroit. Big Sean has also already helped design two pairs of shoes, Pro Model I and II-the most recent of which was released exclusively to influencers in August around the time his sophomore album, “Hall of Fame,” came out. The limited run of around 300 pairs was snapped up in days, with shoes selling on eBay for thousands of dollars.
Though Big Sean wasn’t paid a licensing fee or share in equity for the shoes, Roe Williams, director of marketing and strategic partnerships at Big Sean’s management firm KWL Enterprises, says the rapper’s team is exploring options for more “structured deals” in 2014. “We released the first two promotionally to be designed as a case study to sort of test the marketplace for Sean,” she says. “Fans have been very receptive, and Adidas gets the value. They also understand the importance of having synergy across every aspect of an artist’s life — they don’t feel like they’re being told to wear Adidas.”
Of course, Adidas’ hip-hop legacy goes back to the landmark deal with Run-D.M.C. following the 1986 hit “My Adidas,” which was written as an unpaid, unsolicited ode to its favorite shoe brand. Run and D.M.C. teamed with producer A-Trak earlier this year to return the favor once again, creating a new song, “Unite All Originals,” to celebrate Adidas’ fall/winter 2013 line of Originals apparel.
Bieber will appear in an interactive video lookbook for the collection, and in turn, Adidas is exploring ways to offer exclusive new music from the singer and other unique ways to purchase tracks from the “Music Monday” series Bieber started rolling out in October.
Adidas is far from alone in its sustainable support of musicians and the music industry. Converse, a subsidiary of Nike, has been particularly active in supporting rising and unsigned acts.