2017 was a milestone year for Adidas. The German brand’s ability to use new technology to innovate products and engage its audience along with savvy branding has ignited its rapid growth to improve its position against Nike.
Time Magazine nominated the Adidas FutureCraft4 Sneaker as one of 2017’s Best Inventions. This is Adidas’ first futuristic shoe made from 3-D printing. They partnered with Carbon, a Silicon Valley startup who uses light-sensitive plastics in their 3D printing process. Its created from light and oxygen from a process called “Digital Light Synthesis” and allows for tailoring the shoe’s midsole directly to the consumer’s need. This breakthrough innovation is revolutionary because Carbon’s technology cuts the time it takes to print the shoe’s sole from an hour and a half to as little as 20 minutes. In the future there will likely be on-demand printing stations in Adidas’ retail stores.
In September Adidas surpassed the Jordan Brand as the second most popular sneaker brand. The creation of Adidas’ “Boost” midsole can’t be understated in powering the brand’s impressive growth, making it the “crown jewel” of the Adidas empire. Adidas collaborated with with BASF (the leading chemical company) to blow up and reshape a material known as TPU into miniature energy capsules, which make up a white, spongy, styrofoam-like midsole. The innovation of this pillow-like cushioning system makes for a more comfortable shoe. Adidas’ Innovation Team conducted rigorous testing and the Boost foam is believed to yield the highest energy return of any running shoe on the market. Temperature testing also showed that Boost foam is also three times more temperature resistant than standard EVA material.
The Boost midsole cushioning system is a common feature in Adidas’ top three selling shoes from 2017: the UltraBoost, the NMD and the Kanye West designed “Yeezy” Boost 350. While the UltraBoost has been widely called “the world’s best running shoe”, the NMD and Yeezy Boost are marketed more to fashion and design-minded enthusiasts. Kanye’s involvement with the brand creates instant marketability for these products and helps Adidas’ versatile nature and substantial growth as a lifestyle brand.
In 2017, Adidas also leveraged emerging technologies for brand building. For their launch of a female focused studio Space (May, 2017), LDN in London, Adidas used a Facebook chatbot instant messenger to ease the booking process for its free fitness sessions. The brand achieved high user engagement from offering this singular interactive tool. “In the first two weeks alone 2,000 people signed up to participate, with repeat use at 80%. Retention after week one was 60%, which the brand claims is far greater than what could have been achieved with an app.”
In May, Adidas affirmed its commitment towards its sustainability efforts with its collaboration with Parley for the Oceans by using plastic debris in the ocean to make three different versions of the UltraBoost. On average, the shoes reuse 11 plastic bottles per pair and feature laces, heel lining and sock liner covers that are made from recycled materials. The shoes were an instant hit and Adidas surpassed its yearly goal of selling 1 million pairs of UltraBoost sneakers made with ocean plastic.
The brand’s “Calling All Creators” ad campaigns are brought to life by some of its physical, manufacturing and design projects. The recent opening of its Speedfactory warehouses in Germany and Atlanta allows it to use a lean workforce with 3-D printing technologies, robotic arms and computerized knitting to make running shoes. This enables speed so the brand can react to consumer demands in days and eliminate the headache of shipping delays and expenses. In March, the opening of its secretive Creator Farm warehouse in Brooklyn serves as a thinklab where designers can create any innovation from an array of machinery and materials. An amount of Adidas’ success from a design standpoint is fueled by its three top designers, Marc Dolce, Denis Dekovic and Mark Miner who all left Nike in 2014.
Similar to the dominance Nike experienced in the 90’s with its invention of the Nike Air, Air Max cushioning midsole in its products, Adidas now has its breakthrough invention. Adidas’ recent technological advancements and accolades are impressive. By innovating its approach to digital, design and manufacturing processes the brand has achieved extraordinary results in 2017!