With basketball season set to return in the coming weeks, this is going to change the timelines on marketing and introducing new sneakers. This would typically be the time you see players rocking their new shoes in off-season, seeing design releases, and sneak peaks. Guys working out, going on vacation, while sharing moments to market their new gear. With everything that’s happening this year, it’s only natural to expect changes in this regard and to see brands and athletes adjust their marketing efforts. Along with that, there are the ongoing protests for Black Lives Matter, awareness and acknowledgment of inequalities, and police brutality. This is relevant and important to many NBA players whose communities are affected by this injustice. They can’t sit on the sidelines or allow these brands to take advantage of black culture like they have for so many years.
It’s not just about players discussing their blackness, it’s about no longer accepting being told to “shut up” when they speak out. Brands need to be right there with the players speaking out against this, and players need to think long and hard if they are with the right brand if they aren’t getting the respect they and their communities deserve. I would like to see more athletes speaking out against their brand if they aren’t stepping up to the plate. They can’t sit idly by allowing brands to carry on like they always have. There is an element of responsibility here because athletes are the connection between the brand and the consumer. Don’t stop at supporting BLM, take it that step further and use your position to hold brands accountable for their practices and address the barrier of entry within their company. There is a reckoning coming, and if changes aren’t made, if marketing doesn’t change, if you ignore your consumers and their needs, you will end up like fallen brands like Fila and And1. This isn’t new thinking; McKinsey and Company did a report showing how diverse teams outperform teams that lack diversity, and those who are unwilling to become more diverse are seeing more consequences to their actions. You can find a link to the full report here. If brands want to stay relevant, they need to act now and in bold ways showing they are on board with this way of thinking.
At this point brands have limited time to get their shit together, a few months maybe. Here is their time to stop making excuses and show they are on board and support black culture. When players come to the board room, they should see diversity around them. At the end of the day, brands like Adidas have made it abundantly clear that black culture, black athletes, black musicians, etc. are important to them. There is no question Adidas is ingrained in sneaker culture and anything that goes against that should be immediately addressed and dealt with by the company. As mentioned in previous posts, there are numerous ongoing lawsuits alleging that black and latina workers were passed over for promotion for less qualified personnel, and when called out for their seemingly lack of inclusion at the top, the response was insulting at best, saying that 55% of their workers are black and latino, including retail and hourly employees, to dismiss the lack of diversity in leadership roles.
All of this is a problem and Adidas as a brand is ramping up their marketing efforts for their signature athletes and are going to have to reckon with their ongoing dismissal of black employees. As athletes become more aware of the corporate structure that they themselves have made money off of, it’s only a matter of time before they begin to make demands and changes. Adidas had become complacent in their dismissal of black culture and employees and was the subject of numerous exposes and articles. In 1986, Run DMC made a song called “My Adidas” that influenced an entire culture to wear shell toes with no laces. In 2014, Kanye West and Pharell both joined the brand in order to be influencers and creators, and in 2018 Beyoncé joined the brand and curated her own clothing and shoe line within Adidas, and it’s only now in 2020 that Adidas is willing to acknowledge our place in history with them.
Adidas recently announced a formal acknowledgement to what Black people and culture have meant to their brand, but you need leadership on board for changes to take place. It’s totally unacceptable that their Chief Human Resources Officer stated racism is, “noise”, and I’m glad to see that she has left her position because having someone in that amount of power at the company, is a problem. Adidas better make room for someone who understands the importance of what’s going on if they want to be successful in this mission moving forward.
Going forward with this commitment to black employees, black culture, black communities, black athletes, and black musicians, it’s time for the company to prove it. Have first access to new shoes happen in the US, have giveaways, and promote locally. Any outstanding lawsuits should be analyzed. Starting here and focusing on the efforts to increase diversity at the company is the first step to moving forward with marketing and product design. Having people who can relate to athlete experiences, getting athletes to help promote these efforts are important for moving forward. I assume production for some shoes may be affected by Covid, and there’s still a lot of uncertainties about when things will reopen, so planning for different scenarios is essential. In states that are opening up, you can do giveaways for children in different communities. Another idea is to include things in shoe boxes like a bumper sticker or masks that say, “Black Lives Matter” – an easy way to show support while also marketing the brand. Start researching what makes communities come together and what they value to expand these efforts successfully. Here are some other ideas:
- Have an online career fair, promote paid internships, and send new employees custom gear welcoming them to the team
- Include some company time each week for employees to take part in their communities, volunteer, engage in protests, etc.
- Make BLM gear, send it to your athletes to have them showcase this custom gear dedicated to supporting positive changes
- Sponsor a voter drive that helps communities get out and vote, working towards eliminating barriers to access
We are past the point where black lives can be evaluated monetarily. It’s time for brands to step up, support their athletes, support their consumers, and make changes internally to address diversity issues from within. This fall brands are going to have to look their signature athlete in their eyes and explain to them why the disenfranchisement of individuals who look like them continue, even after a number of protests and discussions about inequality. These brands are going to have some explaining to do about why the only black person in the room was the athlete and why the only black people they encountered were the same ones they met years before. For an industry that loves to detail the evolving technologies and innovative designs their shoes are made from, they have been incredibly behind the times with evolving their thinking when it comes to having the people they need to buy their shoes be in the decision making rooms.