Betting on Recovery: Adidas gambles with campaigns hinging on injured superstars

Nicole Shepard

While watching TV the other day, I was shocked when a commercial came on featuring Washington Redskin quarterback, Robert Griffin III, working out. Last I saw of RG III, he was painfully playing through an injury during a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks, which ended with him hobbling off the field and eventually getting surgery on both his ACL and LCL. These injuries aren’t known for being quick fixes which is why I was even more surprised when the commercial ended with the slogan, “All in for Week 1” and then flashing to the Adidas logo.

Since its debut in February, this commercial, and more specifically the Adidas messaging, has received some criticism from the sports community, expressing their concern that RG III is rushing his return to football. In addition, the company attracted more scrutiny around another campaign called “The Return” with Chicago Bulls star, Derrick Rose. This campaign was created after Rose tore his ACL last year and like RG III, focused on his return to the NBA in March 2013. However, due to Rose’s recent interview with USA Today, many people are looking at Adidas as setting Chicago fans’ expectations too high, which in turn is making them question Rose’s decision to take extra time to recover, even though his doctors cleared him to play.

With the risk surrounding these two campaigns, I have to question Adidas’ strategy to bet on Mother Nature and a professional athlete’s recovery process. I understand that there’s the Adrian Peterson precedence where he came back from an ACL tear in an unprecedented amount of time and had a career-high year. Why wouldn’t Adidas want to be part of this buzz? Then there’s making the best out of a bad situation, given they signed Rose to a $260 million contract right before he got injured. Finally there’s the underdog story where sports fans love more than to see a star athlete working through the pain to get back on top…with Adidas’ help of course.

While the above three reasons make sense, there are larger risks involved when dealing with this type of campaign:

  • Recovery time: Both campaigns talk about the two athletes’ return to the athletic field/court but none of them discuss the adjustment period that goes hand-in-hand with recoveries. In Derrick Rose’s case, this timeframe involves minute limitations, nights off and a less aggressive style of play. Adidas is promising the 2010-2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose, not the cautious post-injury fine-tuning Derrick Rose that they will get.
  • Likelihood of re-injury: In addition to the added recovery time, the likelihood that Derrick Rose and RG III get re-injured are extremely high and a rushed recovery from an endorser could be blamed as a reason for this.
  • Negative backlash: While these campaigns are keeping Adidas in the limelight, the negative backlash they’ve received is not the type of buzz they should be looking for. With so much scrutiny on athlete’s health, especially in the NFL, the last thing Adidas should position itself next to is rushing an athlete’s recovery process and making them feel pressured to meet a deadline. This has already been made apparent from RG III who posted the following tweet:

While Adidas’ strategy is flawed, a simple tweak to their messaging could make this a truly great campaign. Instead of making their spokespeople appear as larger-than-life, super-human individuals, Adidas should have used these humbling injuries to make them more relatable to consumers. Adidas could have showed that its brand is on the athlete’s side in the recovery process and that it will be there supporting them through their hard work in getting as healthy as possible, instead of returning as quickly as possible.

Adidas had a real chance to position itself as a trusted brand that cares for an athlete’s well-being and can’t put a deadline on something as sensitive as an injury. Unfortunately in these two cases, they really dropped the ball.

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