Adidas taking part in World Marathon Majors, and in runners’ life experience
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One of my passions, besides fashion, is running. I’m one of those people (crazy some would say) who wake up at 5:15 am in the morning to go out and run, then afterwards run to work and live a “normal” life, but with discipline and commitment as main ingredient in the recipe, do an athletics routine, just for the pleasure of doing it.
I proudly share that I’ve ran 4 marathons in the past 4 years, the training to get to a marathon implies a lot of work, a lot of fatigue, countless sacrifices, but the sum of all this gives a lot of satisfaction. My last was Berlin 2014, and this one is part of the World Marathon Majors series. Each of these 6 marathons has a large amount of sponsors that support in many ways the local governments to make them happen.
Adidas, who is today’s case, is present at Boston and Berlin events, being this last where the world record has been broken in the past years, and today is the marathon with the fastest course in history.
As a runner and marketer, I’ve always wanted to know the real reason why Adidas is part of such important events; in my research I acquired a lot more than answers, I took with me a pleasant and unforgettable advise, and a great life experience.
It seems unthinkable that a common person with no New York Times or Runners World Magazine Editor title in the e-mail signature could have access to an Adidas director just like that, with the only purpose to investigate about their contribution to the World Marathon Majors. However, my persistence granted me a meeting with Craig Vanderoef, Adidas Senior Global Director of Running Apparel, in the electric capital of Germany on a Saturday September 27th (yes, Saturday, no workable day), one day before the marathon.
On our meeting I started the interview with the first question, what does Adidas look for by participating in sports global events?“Adidas seeks to inspire the runner, seeks to help him loving running, and to provide energy, to provide Boost”, Craig said.
(OK, I thought, that is a very general answer!). He drove me to go in depth, so the conversation really starts like this: how does Adidas do to inspire the runner?
“The combination of three things has been useful in this goal. The first one is the clothing, to help the runner achieve great performance; second is style; and the third one is my team”. Craig says there is no specific answer about how they’ve achieved their goal, but he says LISTENING has allowed them getting to know better their user to blend his needs with Adidas brand values, and in that way transmit excitement and inspiration.
About these three elements, lets talk
about clothing and performance. Craig makes reference to a probably known fashion story from the 50s, The Little Black Dress by Hubert de Givenchy Audrey Hepburn wore in the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It turns out that when she tried on the dress, she couldn’t walk, so the production team said to Givenchy: “Audrey wore the dress and couldn’t walk in it, don’t you think we should fix it? To what he responded no: “my job is not make her to move around, but to make her look beautiful”, so they finally made 2 dresses for the movie. Adidas with its clothing line, unlike Givenchy, cannot ignore performance; the brand focuses on the runner to move confortable and properly, yet as Givenchy, also looks for the runner to look good.
This leads me to the next element, style. To get to this concept, Adidas had to look at this subject in great detail to get to the root: why do people run? The primary answer is health, wellbeing, or simply look good. Craig’s team interprets that it’s really about oneself and self-confidence. In the case of women, the team knows they are all physically different between each other, different to men, and they have a differentiated natural shape. Knowing this, they work so a pair of running tights, for example, are not only functional and confortable, but also fit well to make her look beautiful from behind and don’t tighten her waist (you know what I mean, a nice bum and no love-handles), and that’s why Adidas works carefully on the product development, so the garment structure makes the body more attractive. Besides the body shape, in the design stage style is considered, and that is why there is a creative team working in-house and on collaborations with personalities from the fashion world, such as Stella McCartney and Pharrel Williams, people with great talent that will help the runner to express and inspire through sports.
“In Adidas we are obsessed with the consumer, who is the young urban runner. Our passion is to know him/her better and learn from he/she”, and Craig says: “it is strange to talk so much about women, specially because I’m a guy, but that’s the beauty of being it, because I have the external perspective”. He goes deeper into women as a subject along the conversation, for the only reason we are more complex to understand (I admit it), reason why he invests the most part of his time on understanding her, listening to her, trying to know how she lives her life, what are her goals and try to help her meeting them.
The Adidas Running team also discovered that new runners hate to run (go figure!), thus they’ve paid a lot of attention on finding a method to convert them from hate to love. One way to do it is providing them with the necessary tools to make running easy and confortable… you know, a pair of technological shoes that take care of his feet, that are also easy to wear and cool.
So then, what has all this to see with being sponsor of a marathon? Part of the answer is what I said before, which is to support the local governments financially so the event happens; it takes a lot of money to close the streets of such important cities. But the main reason is because Adidas wants to offer runners a chance to live a weekend with a community that shares the same interest, the same goal, and the same passion. Adidas wants to help the runner to be the best he can be, the best version of himself/herself. Adidas wants the runner, after the long course, when he/she gets on the plane to go back home, and finds another person wearing the same event commemorative jacket, to look at each other and smile because they share something, that is the experience of running a great marathon and achieving a personal victory. Adidas wants to create connection through fashion. It is very complex to express in a few words what Adidas has to do to offer a life experience, but as a runner I can tell you that what I’ve just told you, makes a lot of sense to me.
What I revealed above may be the most important part of this post to you, the theoretical content of the Adidas case, but the most important part for me was when I turned the recorder off and I got the real gift after the interview, which was an unforgettable advise from a runner before the big day, and an excellent reflection that I confess never hearing before.
Craig was also running the marathon the following day, and his purpose in this one unlike the other 36 marathons he has ran in his life (yes, 36, and he doesn’t even look 36 years old), was to be a pacer, who is that person running with a time sign, for example 3:50, so people who wants to finish the marathon in that time, runs next to him and he helps them to maintain the pace to meet the time goal.
Craig: “So, are you excited?”
Adriana: “Yes! And also nervous” (I only said that)
Craig: “Well you shouldn’t be nervous, you’ve done in the past months all the work you had to do. The only thing you have to do tomorrow is enjoying the streets. Think about how fortunate you are, have you ever thought you practice a unique sport? Tomorrow with thousands of people you will run 42 Km, and you all have so much in common that will become a family. The same day you will run together the fastest marathon in the world. Maybe tomorrow you run the marathon of the history for the next years and a record will be broken, maybe tomorrow you run next to the fastest man on earth, and that is something any friend you have, that for instance practices soccer, can ever tell you, that next to other 50 thousand people played in the same match as Beckham or Messi. Don’t forget you practice a unique sport. Just run and have fun, you are already lucky by being here”.
The following day, on September 28th 2014, I ran the Berlin marathon, where Dennis Kimetto, a 30 year old Kenyan ran on the same streets I ran the 42 Km in a new time record of 2:02:57, and that is an experience I will never forget.