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  • Writer's pictureRegina G.

A study of Adidas Earned Media Strategy with Definition and Examples.

When analyzing marketing activities of a brand, marketers often refer to the PEO framework. The "paid, earned and owned" (PEO) approach is used to see how brands manage content.

Content distributed on company’s own platforms is owned media. Content spread on paid advertising channels is paid media. Non-paid mentions and word of mouth content is rereferred to as earned media. Owned and paid media are somewhat understandable. Therefore, I decided to look deeper into earned media and as an example see how Adidas approaches earned media.

"Adidas Earned Media" on the yellow background
Adidas Earned Media

What is Earned Media?

"It’s the stuff you earn through hard work, sweat, and tears. The stuff where you attract attention because you provide better quality or a higher quantity than the competition." Neil Patel

Earned media explanation

Earned media is probably the most difficult type of media for brands to achieve. However, it can bring greater benefits than owned or paid media. Earned media can include social interactions, mentions, reviews, PR, and word of mouth.

Earned media also promotes brands and products, but in fact has somewhat little in common with usual ads. Consumers are tired of being bombarded with advertising and consequently 61% of users use ad blockers. But at the same time, people crave high-quality and reliable information about products and services. They can get that type of information from recommendations that come from friends and family.

The Global Trust in Advertising research done by Nielsen has found that the most credible information comes from people we know with 83% of respondents trusting their inner circle of people and 66% trusting other consumers that share their opinions online. Therefore, earned media is more impactful as well as more about long-term goals and strategy with greater opportunities and higher pay-outs.

Earned media is based on the company’s online presence. Adidas is one of the most followed sports brands on the Internet with 39 million subscribers on Facebook and almost 26 million on Instagram. The brand is active online and posts promotions and videos with products and services which attract consumers and make them subscribe.

Earned media: user-generated content

Social media is used by the company not only as a marketing tool, but also as a means to let their fans and consumers show their appreciation. User-generated content is an example of that. On Instagram, more than 7 million mentions of #adidasoriginals prove love for the brand and its products among consumers. It means that people do not simply share their pics with Adidas products but are willing to be a part of the Adidas family as they are a part of the brand’s story and values.

The focus on customers is fundamental for the brand. More than that, Adidas does not want to simply promote their products and make consumers buy, but rather have conversations about people, their interests and pain points. For example, they released a massive social campaign with the message “End Plastic Waste”, where they not only confirmed that plastic is a big problem, but also admitted that they personally contributed to it.

A straight-forward and sincere conversation with consumers let the brand establish trust and connection with consumers which resulted in the hashtag #endplasticwaste ranking 9th in top hashtags by average engagement. By Instagram engagement rate, I mean how many people in the audience engaged in some way with the hashtag.

To double their efforts in tackling plastic pollution issues, Adidas started the brand’s global movement “Run for the Oceans”, a virtual challenge where contestants can run, walk and wheelchair to support Parley’s Global Cleanup Network. Parley’s Global Cleanup cleans marine debris from beaches and islands. With every kilometer participants ran, Adidas supported the clean up of the equivalent of 10 plastic bottles. And in its third year in 2019 the movement doubled in size with about 2.2 million participants which is a true sign that the brand’s initiatives receive recognition among consumers and stimulate them to act.

However, a Run for the Ocean 2020 was cancelled due to the current situation with coronavirus.

Earned media: collaborations

Like other brands, Adidas also does collaborations but in its own unique way. Instead of using celebrities to simply promote their products, Adidas involves them into the actual design process. By doing that, collaborations feel authentic and genuine, rather than purely sales driven. Stan Smith, Stella McCartney, Jeremy Scott, Beyonce, Pharrell Williams, Star Wars, Lego are just a few examples of the collaborations Adidas has had.

The creative director of Adidas Sport Style Dirk Schonberger said that “Adidas is a melting pot of different cultures”. It means that the brand wants its culture and identity to be defined by its partners that come from different backgrounds and share different values. It in turn supports the brand’s inclusivity and lets it target people of other races, ethnic categories, or minorities.

Adidas collaborations usually generate massive excitement. But of course, the partnership that has broken all possible records is the Kanye West and Adidas collaboration with the Yeezy sneakers that are swept from online shelves in seconds and sold on eBay with 500% mark-up. To top it up, the shoes got an award for “Shoe of the Year” in 2015.

It is interesting to mention that Adidas did their first collaborations long ago in 1970s when they partnered with Muhammad Ali, one of the most prominent boxers and famous sportsmen of all times. Ali with his daughter Laila took part in the “Impossible is Nothing” campaign and since that the famous slogan has gone viral and is forever associated with the brand. By the way, there are lots of articles on the Internet saying “Impossible is Nothing” is better than “Just do it” by Nike but we do not cover it. Nevertheless, this year Adidas returns to its original iconic slogan.


Adidas generates its earned media by doing collaborations with famous sportsmen and celebrities, by letting its consumers create and actively share their content about their love for the brand, by talking about issues that are relevant to their target audience and creating viral campaigns and slogans.

Thank you for reading. Comment or contact me if you want to discuss more my article or any other topic that's interesting to you.

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