Brands as Stories

Sole Searching: A brand story on the cultural impact of Adidas

I was reminded of the remarkable power of brand stories and the disproportionate effect truly culturally connected brands can have on the world when I saw a really inspiring short film about Adidas recently.

I say it’s about Adidas, but it’s not really. It’s about the astonishing cultural significance a sportswear manufacturer from Germany can hold for everyone from a shopkeeper in Argentina, to the lead singer of The Stone Roses, to a team of committed trainer aficionados from the north west of England.

The film is called Sole Searching in South America and was conceived as a tie-in to the release of Adidas Originals’ new Spezial range, the brainchild of creative consultant Gary Aspden, a man who’s worked with Adidas for many years and traces his roots with the brand back to the terrace culture of 1980s football.

The film documents a trip to a nondescript sports shop in Buenos Aries, Argentina, following an email tip-off about a huge, untouched hoard of vintage Adidas clothing and footwear dating back to the 1970s. Along with a group of Adidas fanatics and collectors that includes Ian Brown of the aforementioned Stone Roses; Aspden films their trip to Argentina to source rare items for an exhibition to promote the Spezial range.

It’s a wonderful film not just for a (recovering) trainer addict like myself, but also anyone interested in the cultural impact that brands can have on subcultures way beyond their originally imagined sphere of influence. Aspden and his crew largely come from English football or ‘terrace’ culture; they re-appropriated brands like Adidas as statements of fashion at a time when you had to go to a shop that generally specialised in cricket bats in order to buy your trainers.

Compare and contrast that to today when sportswear is now leisurewear and the kind of small, local, sports retailers featured in the film have all but disappeared from our high streets, replaced by the cathedrals to leisure and lifestyle where we buy our Nikes and Adidas now. Such has been the cultural impact of this shift from functional sporting equipment to desirable fashion objects, then to the everyday uniform of the masses, that (especially for those of us working in the creative industries) you’re more likely to see your company MD in jeans and trainers than a suit.

The thing that really struck me about the film (apart from the infectious excitement and disbelief on the faces of the Adidas team as they revealed rarity after rarity from the stock room) was the almost religious commitment to the brand of the shopkeeper himself.

Creative consultants, collectors and rock stars are all intimately tapped into the mainline of culture that gives brands such as Adidas their immense cultural pull, but the shopkeeper’s experience couldn’t possibly have been further away from theirs – you can see he knows nothing, nor cares most likely, about UK terrace culture, music or fashion – but he’s just as entranced as they are by the cultural power of a sportswear manufacturer from Germany.