One particular brand has remained a permanent fixture throughout my life: Adidas. A German sportswear brand that has its roots, its ‘brand heritage’ primarily in athletics and football, Adidas has also been the unofficial clothing brand of black American music since the 1970’s (save a small blip in the 1990s when Nike muscled in). As an international brand, its position in the market and the signals it sends out vary in different regions throughout the world. Like most sophisticated brands these days, it tailors its marketing and product to suit particular territories. But as a white middle-class young adult living in England, these are a few general meanings and signals that Adidas carries for me:
- I am aspirational: I share the same goals and ideals as the athletes (British Olympic Team), musicians (Run DMC) and fashion designers (Stella McCartney) associated with Adidas. But not David Beckham.
- I am not the mainstream: although Adidas is one of the biggest sportswear brands in the world, it is not the largest. As an individual I want to fit in generally, but not be the same as everyone else.
- I am European: Adidas is not American. Although I am not nationalistic, I am proud of my heritage, and sometimes feel anti-American.
- I am ethical: some rival sports brands are notorious for using sweatshops, which I disagree with. Although I cannot be sure if Adidas has a better or worse track record, to me they seem to be far more responsible.
- I am not a slave to work culture; I am prepared to work hard when required, but I do not subscribe to the traditions of the workplace, choosing to wear sportswear over a suit to reinforce this.
By wearing the Adidas stripes on even the most minor piece of clothing, I hope to convey the idea that I am an aspirational, freethinking and autonomous European with some sense of moral structure and a worldwide political view. It’s likely that I never actually articulated these values to the people I know in any serious conversation, nor given much thought to acting on these supposed standards, but to acquaintances and strangers alike, these are the principles I wish to associate myself with, and I can articulate them visually by endorsing this one brand. Having been exposed to the same marketing and brand positioning, a stranger passing me in the street would hopefully catch sight of my Adidas trainers, remember the brand’s values and then equate them with myself.
To someone with a little less zeal for brands, this proposition may sound far-fetched. But I believe that we all build meaning into the simplest things we buy, consciously or not. Openly admitting this to my circle of friends would be an embarrassing admission of superficiality. Yet each of us knows we are thinking the same thing…
Excerpt from ‘Bonfire of the Brands’ by Neil Boorman.