Adidas Sports Local Flavor in China
By Tom Ryan
Readying for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Adidas is taking localization in China to another level.
At the extreme, Adidas is running a contest asking Chinese consumers to come up with the uniforms that China’s athletes will wear during medal ceremonies.
“We are trying to involve the nation,” Paul Pi, vice president of marketing for Adidas in greater China, told Forbes in its July issue. “We wanted the design to be from a passionate fan of the Olympics, as well as to challenge ideas about creativity here.”
The contest is part of an overall effort by the global brand to adapt as much as possible to domestic tastes. Eighteen months ago Adidas opened a design center in Shanghai and this year more than 20 percent of Adidas’ products for China will be designed specifically for Chinese consumers. “This center shows that we are listening to their needs, not just imposing our sizes and standards,” said Mark Colin-Thome, the center’s director.
Adidas’ strategy comes as Chinese consumers are looking for more products specifically tailored for them. Conventional wisdom held that Chinese consumers were starving for international brands and wanted all the global touches. But due to an influx of products and marketing, Chinese consumers have become more sophisticated and their expectations are higher.
“There is a need to adapt global fashion to Chinese tastes and be more nimble in the market because China is now big enough to justify it,” said Francis Claro, senior portfolio manager for Evergreen Investments.
Adidas found that designing for Asian bodies and tastes goes well beyond European and American size takedowns. For instance, Chinese male consumers want edgier looks to stand out in the crowd.
Still, Adidas isn’t shunning globalization. One store format in the region offers products adapted for China alongside popular overseas designs such as Stella McCartney’s line for women and NBA star Tracy McGrady’s basketball sneakers. Its other format focuses heavily on its 87-year heritage with retro shoe styles and stocks more fashionable sportswear. This type of store “is more expensive, it’s more global, it’s more like fashion,” Mr. Pi said.
Tom Doctoroff, chief executive for greater China at J. Walter Thompson, believes there’s a danger in being too domestic. “I would never put on the product that it was designed for the Chinese,” he said. “It’s important to make products relevant, but you shouldn’t shout about it.”
Discussion Questions: Do you think more of a localized strategy is now required of brands marketing to China or here in the U.S. for that matter? It is possible to become more localized without losing the benefit of being a global brand?