My Adidas – Influencer Marketing's Roots

It was July 19th, 1986.

Madison Square Garden.

Darryl McDaniels, Joseph Simmons & Jam Master Jay stood before thousands and made one simple request, “hold up your sneakers”.

When people think of influencer marketing they think of popular YouTube stars, Instagram followings & monthly unique visitors. And they’re not wrong, that is exactly influencer marketing as we know it today. But when I think of influencer marketing I think of that night in New York City. Granted I hadn’t been born yet and wouldn’t be for another 3 years. And wouldn’t have the slightest concept of Influencer marketing for another 26 years. So, let me back up.

RUN DMC, arguably one of the most influential hip-hop groups in the 1980s came out with the smash hit, “My Adidas”. The group, in a time where rap was considered a cultural danger, wanted to showcase on stage how they dressed in the streets. But the song, less about the shoes, broke down negative misconceptions about young black youth & proved they were a positive influence in their community. The song was so popular RUN DMC jokingly sent a video to the executives of Adidas telling them they wanted $1 million dollars for all the hard work they had done, correlating the sales of Adidas shoes to the popularity of their song. You have to remember that this was coming at the time of a huge cultural movement. When it was abnormal for athletic shoes to be worn more for style rather than functionality.

As the story goes, it was RUN DMC’s extremely savvy road manager who invited an Adidas executive to see RUN DMC perform at Madison Square Garden on July 19th, 1986. Right before the group performed “My Adidas”, they asked the crowd that one simple question, “hold up your sneakers”. Thousands of people held up their shoes, all Adidas. And as the story goes, that Adidas executive was brought to tears. It was that moment that led him to convince his bosses to sign the group on for $1 million. The joke was now a reality. It was rap’s first endorsement deal and changed hip hop forever. And looking back on it now, may very well have changed marketing forever.

By definition, “Influencer Marketing is a form of marketing in which focus is placed on specific key individuals”. And that is exactly what happened here. This was Influencer marketing at its finest.  The Adidas executive looked at these young men and saw how powerful their voices were. He didn’t look at the audience, because RUN DMC’s audience wasn’t his audience. I was reminded of this recently.

A client signed on a very popular influencer to be featured in a commercial of sorts. The influencer co-wrote the commercial and after watching it I found myself confused and told myself it was a flop…until I checked out the response on social media. Nearly 2 million views, 19 thousand likes, 2.2 thousand shares and 1.1 thousand comments, almost all talking about wanting to purchase just because the influencer was involved. They found their RUN DMC.

Looking back on why I believed the influencer campaign was unsuccessful is because the video didn’t appeal to me. However, I wasn’t the audience they were looking to capture. In a partnership, there are two brands looking to benefit from the relationship, the client and the influencer. Clients need to give the influencer enough creative freedom to successfully communicate to their audience. If not, the campaign runs the risk of failing. Point being, the influencer knows how to sell to their audience, which is why they have a following. When negotiating these deals, we need to remember, it wasn’t Adidas who filled Madison Square Garden on July 19th, 1986, it was RUN DMC. With that in mind, I have one simple request, “hold up your sneakers.”

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