Adidas AG aims to increase its sales by 40 million pairs of sneakers annually, to more than a half-billion by 2020, largely by appealing to fashion-conscious teens and urban hipsters. At the heart of that effort: a decades-old shoe named after a retired tennis player who lives in South Carolina and hasn’t won a major singles tournament since 1980.
The shoe is the Stan Smith, a white-leather number with pale green accents introduced in 1971, the year before Stan Smith (the player, now 70) earned his second and last Grand Slam singles title. Thanks to a well-orchestrated promotional blitz, this unlikely hero has made one of the greatest comebacks in marketing history, from a declining brand popular with suburban dads into a must-have for the -fashion-savvy. As they rev up an effort to catch Nike Inc., Adidas executives are seeking to replicate parts of the campaign Nike Air Zoom Spiridon Femme to stoke interest in other shoes. “We wanted to position it anew with fashion designers and trendsetters,” says Arthur Hoeld, who heads Adidas’s brand strategy and business development. “This is part of the concept -- to push boundaries, to experiment.”
As Adidas was planning the Stan Smith revival about five years ago, the shoe was still selling, though it was showing up more often at discount stores. The feeling around the company was that the model had lost its mojo, but Hoeld and a handful of other executives saw its potential, their confidence bolstered by reports that Phoebe Philo, creative director of the Céline fashion house, had been spotted sporting Stan Smiths at her shows. So Hoeld’s team outlined a Nike Air Max 90 Femme campaign designed to look grassroots but which was in fact choreographed from start to finish with a goal of making the shoes de rigueur for people whose parents may be too young to recall the last time Smith played at Centre Court.
The first step was counter-intuitive: Adidas pulled the shoe from the market in 2Adidas ZX Flux Dámské 012, leaving customers with the impression the move was permanent. By mid-2013, Stan Smiths were almost impossible to find, prompting angry letters from fans -- and spurring Smith and some on Hoeld’s team to question the wisdom of the plan. Late that year, Adidas began shipping a new version to dozens of celebrities it had worked with, including singer A$AP Rocky, designer Alexander Wang, and talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres. The freebies included a personalized touch intended to get the stars to wear them: A drawing of Smith on the tongue was replaced by an image of each Adidas Stan Smith Mujer recipient. Adidas struck gold in November 2013, when French Vogue featured model Gisele Bündchen sporting nothing but a pair of white socks -- and Stan Smiths. About the same time, Adidas released a two--minute web video featuring actors and sports stars waxing poetic about the sneakers.
The first new models, priced at about $90, hewed closely to the simplicity of the original, with a white body and a touch of color on the tongue and heel. In early 2014, Adidas started shipping them to shops catering to hardcore sneaker fans, followed by specialty footwear retailers and, months later, department stores and big-box outlets. Later that year, the company steadily added spinoffs -- Stan Smiths in high heels, faux crocodile skin, and honeycomb leather, Adidas introduced variants aimed at specific age groups and tastes: simulated ostrich leather, Velcro closures, white with pink accents, Nike Air Max 720 Damenblue pony hair heel tabs -- even one featuring Kermit the Frog.