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Adidas – A Brand Case Study

Phoebe Johnson

Phoebe Johnson
16th Jun 2021

How does a business become a household name?

Three parallel stripes. Iconic. Probably one of the most simple yet recognisable logos in the world today. There are so many elements to consider when designing a logo, from brand colours to how you get across your brand identity and core values, it’s the face of your business. So how exactly does a logo, brand strategy and brand exposure help establish your company as a household name?


Due to evolving technology, we are living in a visual culture – a huge advantage when it comes to marketing a multicultural world. With social media becoming an integral part of most of our lives, images, in essence, have become a global form of communication, a language in itself. We can communicate one collective message clearly & efficiently through images alone. It’s not too far-fetched to assume that in most corners of the world people would associate the three parallel stripes with Adidas regardless of what language they speak, positioning them as the household name they are today. But how does a company get to that stage?

The story behind the stripes

In 1949 Adi Dassler, the founder of Adidas, designed his first ever logo, which was just a close up of a running spike. The spike itself featured that classic three stripe emblem which was, at the time, merely a functional design feature of the actual shoe. It is rumoured that Adi actually bought the three stripes logo from another company in its infancy, for a small cash amount and some whiskey. (Clever move indeed, Adi.) The design was a direct and simple derivative of the manufacturer of the spikes that came to symbolise variety as the shoe began to evolve for specific sports.

Shortly after the three stripes were adopted and the brand began to gain global traction, the trefoil version of the logo was developed. The three leaves were an extension of the original meaning also representing the different parts of the world they traded in: Europe, Asia and North America. The three stripes run through the centre, paying homage to the original design.

Next they released the three black “bars” tilted at a 45 degree angle, staggered like mountain tops. This was said to symbolize “the challenges to be faced and the goals to be achieved.” This version first featured on high performance sportswear sponsoring major athletes.

Finally, the most recent evolution: the black sphere with three intersecting white stripes. This variation is for the designers collaboration line and probably the one we have had the least exposure to.

We can see that although the logos have evolved over time, the design has remained uncomplicated and stayed faithful to its origin. The consistency and simplicity of any company logo reinforces the brand two fold. It firstly means that we recognise it. And secondly means we remember it. But why do we care to remember it? And the answer to this question sits on the fine line between marketing and branding. This is a good way to put it: “marketing is like asking someone on a date…. Branding is the reason they say yes!” (Ren Jones)

Branding – Believing in the ‘why’

Why do we all say yes to a date with Adidas? How does a company create such an evocative culture from a bunch of black and white lines? Simon Sinek might just have the secret. He presented a ted talk in 2010 called How Great Leaders Inspire Action. In his talk he points to a common link between all the successful giants, and it’s actually pretty simple. Most companies will market their brand without thinking about WHY they do what they do. And – no – making money isn’t a valid reason in this theory. These directors all know what they sell, and all know how they’re going to do it… but not many of them really know the answer to WHY they do what they do. (If you watch the video you’ll see how often he repeats this phrase!) This is what he’s getting at: The WHY is why we BUY. Ask yourself this, have you ever heard Adidas actually talk about their sportswear in an advert? Do we actually know anything about the design technology that makes their sportswear bespoke and better than anyone else’s? No, but we trust them enough to buy anyway because we believe in their brand.

Adidas doesn’t sell sportswear, they sell diversity, international community, variety. They inspire us to “face our challenges and achieve our goals.” We buy into the belief system that sits behind the logo. Years after Adi died in 1978 his widow, Käthe Dassler, said: “Developing shoes was his hobby, not his job.” He was fascinated by science and was motivated to experiment purely from the love of his craft. And that is precisely why whole nations came to believe in the brand. Adi, although a keen businessman, was not primarily in it for the cash, Adidas the brand was born from something organic.

Spreading the word

Exposure of your brand is essential for brand awareness and of course to maximise sales. Adi started by persuading individual athletes at the Olympic Games to wear his bespoke footwear, starting with the 1928 Amsterdam games. When his athlete won a gold medal, word began to spread. Berlin in 1936, and again in Helsinki 1952, more athletes caught wind of other athletes’ success and more gold medals were achieved by Adi’s trainers. Adidas was gaining momentum. By the time the Olympics came round in the 60s, 75% of all track & field athletes not only wore Adidas shoes, but depended on them.

As Adidas became more popular amongst athletes, it was inevitably leaked into the celebrity sphere. Once your brand goes into the celebrity domain, traction in high street fashion is a cinch. Beyoncée this year has been part of their new campaign. This is what Youtube captioned it:

“Beyoncé saw the possibilities of inviting us all to find our voice. To use her platform as a stage to celebrate our differences, with all people. With you. Me. Them. Us.”

If you saw this caption out of context you’d think, eh? Sportswear? Once again they are alluding not to the product itself, but a common ethos of possibility & diversity. And they are inviting us to join in, and become a part of it.

Pays off to be a Dreamer

Logo, brand, exposure… Voila! Sounds good? It’s easy to sit here and type a rough blueprint of marketing success and make it sound easy, but if it was that simple, everyone would be doing it. Although the concept is straight forward, pulling it off is hard. It takes time, patience… and most importantly somebody who believes in something strongly enough to chase a dream. Sinek reminds us that Martin Luther King did not have an idea, he had a dream. Adi Dasser had a dream once whilst making shoes in his mum’s scullery. If he was still alive today, he would be able to see how that dream led to one of the most successful brand stories in history! 

Hey, look down here. Behind every brand is a story, and behind every story is a beginning and that starts with you. Let us help you tell your story. Get in touch today on  01603 859007.

Or email us at hello@nuimage.co.uk.

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