Running Billboards with adidas

We helped sports giant adidas turn athletes into moving ads to promote headphones designed for runners.

Adidas’ most recent campaign (quite literally) has legs.

After scooping the Cannes Lions Outdoor Grand Prix for its liquid billboard, the sports giant is continuing its experiment with out of home (OOH) with a series of “running” posters.

To promote its specially-designed sweat-proof, ergonomic, wireless “Fwd-02 Sport” earbuds for runners, developed by Zound Industries, our team at M&C Saatchi Stockholm turned athletes from Stockholm Run Club into moving advertisements.

We designed a series of lightweight billboards, then donned by a cherry-picked team of elite runners who took to the most popular running routes in the Swedish capital. Each poster featured a QR code on the back that offered fellow runners a 50% discount on the headphones.

The catch? To get the discount, people had to keep up with the elites to get close enough to snap the code.

According to Grand View Research, the global headphones and earphones market is worth $36.9 billion in 2021 and is growing at an annual rate of 20.3%, driven by a preference for crystal clear audio on the go and rising mobile tech. The market is crowding too with players ranging from Sony, Apple, Beats by Dr. Dre, Bose and Samsung among those vying for a slice of the pie.

“Initially the plan was simply to seed a campaign with influencers,” said strategist Mounes Zandi from our Stockholm office. “But we asked if we could do something a bit more creative and launch the headphones with an idea.”

Zandi’s team zoomed in on the fact that the Adidas Runners community had helped design the headphones and with a limited media buying budget “Running Billboards” was born.

“We wanted to find an idea that stuck and grabbed people’s attention” added the campaign’s lead copywriter Christoffer Dymling. “It also had to be super targeted.”

Zandi said the biggest challenge was to ensure both the billboards and the idea felt neat and edgy: “It would have been easy for people running around wearing billboards to look ridiculous. But, we managed to get them looking nice and sharp.”

This was done through a collaboration with JCDecaux, which led to the use of lightweight materials rather than traditional plywood, and was trialed in the office by our M&C Saatchi staff.

An influencer push has been supporting the custom-made billboards, targeting runners with content designed to promote the billboards in situ as well as the product itself. The creators were painstakingly selected based on the demographics Adidas wanted to target.

Adidas first announced its tie-up with music hardware company, Zound Industries in 2019. Under the agreement, Zound designs, manufactures, markets and sells audio products under the Adidas badge. The sneaker giant has since rolled out a suite of products to move further into the audio and lifestyle spaces.

“Our main aim with this work wasn’t to drive huge amounts in sales,” Zandi asserted, instead is was about driving traction for Adidas’ entire headphone range, as well as its latest model.

On social, the campaign has already been performing well, driving “beautiful numbers” in terms of engagement and driving clicks to the Adidas site, according to Zandi. She noted the brand had already seen a spike in sales too, strengthened by previous campaigns.

For Dymling, there’s a lesson in here for other marketers about not being afraid to step (or run) out of your creative comfort zone: “If you can do something that’s a bit edgy—whether that’s in the media you choose or the idea itself—you need to stick out in this market, otherwise people won’t notice you.”

Adidas joins rival Nike and more recently Sainsbury’s in pushing OOH to its creative limits. A growing trend among advertisers has been the use of 3D billboards to bring larger-than-life concepts alive; using anamorphic 3D technology, which distorts images to give the illusion of depth to amaze and entertain.

Adidas has also been diversifying its product range as it looks to stave off the financial impact of a slowdown in demand in Western markets and a sluggish retail market in Greater China. Recent launches have included a sports bra range, a sustainable fiber clothing collection and Ski line.

In mid-October, the brand issued its second profit warning in the space of three months.