Adidas – Impossible is Nothing: the beginning

Three-time female boxing champion Laila Ali gets in the ring with her father Muhammad Ali at the height of his own boxing career. Clever postproduction mixes new footage with original Muhammad Ali fights.


“The Long Run” features 7 of today’s top athletes (David Beckham, Tracy McGrady, Laila Ali, Haile Gebrselassie, Ian Thorpe, Zinedine Zidane, Maurice Greene) who join a young Mohammad Ali on one of his famous morning runs in 1974. Ingenious post-production seamlessly merges new footage with original film shot in Zaire.


Skateboarder Stacy Kohut lost the use of his legs after an accident but continues to ‘skateboard’ in his wheelchair.


The current world 100m champion Kim Collins encounters 1936 four time Olympic Gold medal winner  Jesse Owens on the track. This ad is part of the “Impossible is Nothing Olympics” Campaign and has especially been made for the Olympics 2004.


The greatest runner of all time, Haile Gebrselassie takes on the seemingly impossible challenge of beating himself. This ad is part of the “Impossible is Nothing Olympics” Campaign and especially has been made for the Olympics 2004.


The 13 year old gymnast Nastia Liukin literally follows in the path of the legendary Nadia Comaneci, the first gymnast ever to score a perfect “10”. This ad is part of the “Impossible is Nothing Olympics” Campaign and has especially been made for the Olympics 2004.


Over the years adidas-Salomon AG has maintained an international reputation as a premier maker of sporting goods and athletic footwear. It has hired some of the sporting world’s top athletes as spokespersons for its products, and the company has also owned a sponsorship deal with the New York Yankees. Despite its high profile in the industry, however, the company remained the alsoran athletic footwear company in the United States, behind Nike, Reebok, and New Balance. In addition, in 2003 the company reported that its total sales in the United States had dropped 16 percent in the first nine months of that year. Further confounding adidas, which sponsored the 2004 Olympic Summer Games, was the loss of its sponsorship rights to the 2008 Olympics to its competitor Nike. To gain an edge over the competition and to reenergize its business in the United States, in 2004 adidas-Salomon AG introduced a $50 million brand-marketing campaign—the largest ever undertaken by the company—that included television, print, and Internet ads. Themed ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing,’’ the yearlong global campaign was created for adidas by 180/TBWA, a partnership between 180, an agency based in Amsterdam, and the San Francisco agency TBWA/Chiat/Day. It kicked off with television spots featuring digitally altered footage of boxing legend Muhammad Ali jogging with some of the top athletes of the 1990s and 2000s, such as soccer star David Beckham. Athletes featured in subsequent ads included Ali’s daughter Laila, also a boxer, NBA greats Tracy McGrady and Tim Duncan, and tennis champion Justine Henin-Hardenne. The campaign clearly resonated with consumers and earned praise and official recognition from the advertising industry. After it began, the company reported that U.S. sales were up 11 percent compared with the same period the previous year.

The ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ campaign was driven by adidas’s efforts to shift its marketing focus to reach its target audience, 12- to 24-year-old consumers involved in sports. Based on statistics showing that men between the ages of 18 and 34 spent more time online than watching television, adidas also shifted some of its marketing to the Internet. Tara Moss, Internet business developer for adidas America, explained during an interview with Advertising Age, ‘‘We were trying to reach that teen audience that is dedicated to sports. Their apparel and footwear is really necessary to them in their daily lives.’’
Whether the new campaign would actually appeal to its target audience was questioned by some. In an interview with the Oregonian, Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said that adidas needed to make changes in its marketing to be competitive with such companies as Nike and Reebok, who were using highprofile athletes, including NBA stars LeBron James and Yao Ming, respectively, to promote their products. ‘‘The challenge here is whether young teenagers, who are really the hot market for shoes and apparel, resonate with [Muhammad] Ali,’’ he said. ‘‘Many of these kids may never have seen him compete in their lifetime.’’

The adidas ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ campaign, created by 180/TBWA, was designed first to reach American consumers and to improve the company’s market share in the United States. Adidas stressed that the campaign was aimed at a global market and that ads would eventually include athletic stars from a variety of sports and regions. ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ was launched in February 2004 with television, print, and Internet advertising. ‘‘Wallscapes’’—huge ads on the sides of buildings—were installed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami, and Portland. The first television spot featured American boxing icon Muhammad Ali as a young man setting off on one of his legendary long runs; the footage was digitally altered to show him running alongside members of a new generation of athletes, including soccer great David Beckham and NBA star Tracy McGrady, all dressed in adidas merchandise. Meanwhile, Ali’s daughter Hannah narrated, ‘‘Some people listen to themselves, rather than listen to what others say . . . they remind us that once you set out on a path, even though critics may doubt you, it’s okay to believe there is no ‘can’t,’ ‘won’t,’ or ‘impossible.’ They remind us it’s okay to believe impossible is nothing.’’ Another TV ad employed digital effects to depict a young Muhammad Ali sparring with his daughter Laila. In a voice-over Laila dismissed the idea that women should not box, saying, ‘‘Impossible isn’t a fact; it’s an opinion.’’
In addition to print ads and TV spots, the campaign, described by the company as a ‘‘fully integrated communication campaign,’’ also included ads and promotions on the adidas website as part of an effort to reach consumers, especially teens, all over the world. For a limited time the ‘‘Laila’’ TV spot was made available on the Yahoo!, MSN, and ESPN home pages. The online aspect of the campaign also featured 20 elite athletes, each telling his or her personal ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ story. Consumers who logged onto the site were encouraged to share their own stories of overcoming the impossible to succeed. The best stories were awarded prizes. Additional television commercials showed past and present Olympic stars interacting with each other. One ad had sprinter Kim Collins on the track encountering the 1936 gold-medal-winner JesseOwens. Another depicted gymnast Nastia Liukin retracing the moves of the legendary Nadia Comaneci, who in 1976 became the first gymnast to complete a perfect-10 Olympic performance. The spot starringHaile Gebrselassie, known as one of the greatest runners of all time, was digitally altered to feature him running a 10,000-meter race in the Long Beach Memorial Stadium against nine competitors: all himself.

As the ‘‘Impossible Is Nothing’’ campaign advanced, it became evident that it was resonating with consumers, and it earned accolades within the marketing arena. The campaign received a Silver EFFIE Award and won a Gold Lion Award at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, and adidas was named the 2004 Marketer of the Year by Footwear News. Ad critics praised the campaign as well. Speaking specifically of the Boxing legend Muhammad Ali ® and daughter, Laila at the unveiling of a billboard featuring their image as part of the launch of Adidas’ campaign ‘‘Impossible is Nothing.’’ ª JEFF CHRISTENSEN/REUTERS/CORBIS. Commercials created for the U.S. market, Barbara Lippert of Adweek said that the campaign had been ‘‘incredibly successful.’’ She continued, ‘‘Those ads really capture the viewer’s imagination. They are beautifully executed and organic, effectively leveraging the brand’s image. Adidas has made a lot of noise. To come that far, that quickly, is just incredible.’’
The Internet component of the campaign was also successful in reaching the target audience. According to Moss, there was a 125 percent increase in the use of the search term ‘‘adidas’’ on the Yahoo! home page the day the ad featuring Ali and Laila appeared online. The highest number of search requests was from young men aged 13 to 17. Despite the campaign’s success, the NPD Group, an international market-research organization, listed adidas as the number four athletic-footwear brand in the United States—behind Nike, Reebok, and New Balance—the same position it had held in 2003. But based on dollar sales adidas made advances in 2004. According to the company, sales in 2004 were 11 percent higher than in 2003, pushing adidas closer to its proposed goal of doubling its 10 percent U.S. market share and closing the gap between itself and the top company, Nike.

Advertising Agency: 180 Amsterdam
Executive Creative Director: Ren Klyce
Creative Director: Peter McHugh/Lee Clow
Copywriter: Richard Bullock
Art Director: Dean Maryon
Production Company: Park Picture, New York
Director: Lance Accord


4 Comments on “Adidas – Impossible is Nothing: the beginning”

  1. Didas salomon ag | Selfstorageman says:

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  2. Fergal says:

    Does anyone know the music to the Ali vs laila advert pls ???!!! if you do !!!

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  4. 7 Magical Marketing Lessons From Harry Potter « 7 Marketing says:

    […] lesson: Adidas’ famous tagline “impossible is nothing,” should be your marketing motto. If there’s anything the internet […]

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