How the Adidas Marketing Machine Tore Up the Football Transfer Rulebook
In July 2014 Manchester United and Adidas agreed a record-breaking deal that would see the American sports giant pay £750 million over 10 seasons to produce United’s playing kit. Adidas’ offer blew perennial rivals Nike – who had made United’s kits since 2002 – out of the water and raised eyebrows across the football world.
Since then, United have struggled on the pitch, going through two managers in three seasons while missing the champions league twice in that span. Off the pitch, however, United have gone from strength to strength, signing a myriad of lucrative deals with brands from all around the world, and cementing their place as one of the most valuable brands in sport.
When Adidas penned that deal, United’s biggest name was Wayne Rooney, one of Nike’s biggest & most marketable athletes. For Adidas, this represented something of a hindrance, as Rooney’s contractual obligations meant United’s most recognisable face wore Nike football boots on the pitch and Nike apparel while shopping in Manchester.
Adidas and United have since worked tirelessly to bring in a truly world class player who also represents Adidas. In that time, Paul Pogba has emerged as the most marketable of all Adidas football athletes, arguably even more so than Lionel Messi. Pogba’s path to United was paved…or was it?
Football’s worst-kept secret
This transfer has been different to previous big name signings in the way is has broken. In the past, clubs and brands have rushed to announce transfers, keen to get the merchandise sales rolling. This time, Adidas recognised the benefits social media could offer if they dragged it out and built it up. Adidas and its partner agencies planned the Pogba saga as they would any other ad campaign and designated fit-for-purpose hashtags and products to promote.
Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems obvious now that Pogba to United was done weeks if not months ago.
Pogba went on holiday in July amidst strong, but not yet frenzied reports he was heading to United. He tracked his progress through the United States on Instagram and kicked off with this post which triggered speculation he was heading, not to Manchseter, but to Madrid to play for “Los Blancos” (Real Madrid) – another huge Adidas brand.
When Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola, waded into the conversation, it seemed at first that he was looking to clarify the situation. It turns out he was in fact setting the early tone for Adidas’ “Blah Blah Blah” series, which turned into a trending hashtag overnight.
The next day, Adidas released this confusing, yet utterly riveting short video in which Pogba tells viewers not to believe the papers before cutting to Manchester where rapper – and avid United supporter – Stormzy is disgusted to see a United billboard vandalised with graffiti reading “BLAH!”
United had to have been in on this and the video would’ve taken some time to produce, so what was going on behind the scenes? Was a deal agreed? Did United accept the PR regardless of the outcome of the Pogba saga? Either way, Adidas, Pogba and United each got massive exposure as the video triggered immense social media conversation.
Pogba then posted this picture – all black and white apart from a red hat, red shoes and red lights on his Lamborghini, re-igniting speculation he was headed to United.
Raiola dived back into the action claiming no deal was agreed…
…meanwhile Adidas launched the full version of their “Blah Blah Blah” video.
And Pogba helped his agent stir the pot, mocking the press during a trip to Universal Studios, hilariously claiming he was there for his medical!
The drama continued as Adidas promised a United video was coming soon, before Twitter users posted images of Juventus shirts on sale in France with Pogba’s number 10 beneath the name of Paulo Dybala.
Just as it looked certain Pogba was leaving Juventus, he posted a video of himself giving rap star Drake a signed Juve shirt.
Finally on Sunday, United announced Pogba – sort of – on Twitter before taking on Leicester City in the Community Shield.
The #PogBack hashtag has been exposed to 66 million people on Twitter in two days!
Determined to milk it to the death, Pogba posted a final, cryptic Tweet before the official announcement:
The official announcement was, again, obviously painstakingly planned out, with Stormzy releasing a rap video featuring Pogba in a United shirt...
United’s other Adidas athletes were primed to welcome Pogba back to the club with the hashtag #FirstNeverFollows and #PogBack, also referencing @AdidasUK
The Adidas hastag #FirstNeverFollows has been tweeted 3,058 times per hour in the last week.
As a final piece of PR, Pogba & Adidas were all over the press today, including a full front and back page takeover of the Metro:
To summarise, this was a calculated, expertly-choreographed piece of disruptive marketing. Adidas, Raiola, United and Juventus were in on it from the beginning and all parties have benefitted greatly from it. Each phase was planned out designed to manufacture the maximum possible level of excitement on social media platforms.
This may be a trend setter for future blockbuster transfers. I for one enjoyed the way it played out, but what do you think?