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IHAVEANIDEA.ORG > articles >  Chris Barbour, Head of Digital Marketing, Adidas

Chris Barbour, Head of Digital Marketing, Adidas

Posted on January 20, 2011 and read 6,296 times

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rafikcreditpic Chris Barbour, Head of Digital Marketing, Adidas Rafik Belmesk
Operations, AKOS


Head of Digital Marketing, Sports Style Division

Over the years, ihaveanidea has been able to put together a rather impressive [if we say so ourselves] interview vault featuring the very best Creative Directors from around the world. However, the nature of this industry dictates that to make truly great work happen, you need a client who knows creativity’s value to their business, and that’s willing to let you venture out of advertising’s traditional comfort zone. Saying Chris Barbour is one of those clients would be somewhat of an understatement. Named to Fast Company’s ultra-exclusive Most Creative People in Business list in 2010, Chris, with the help of Montreal-based Sid Lee, has been able to make Adidas one of the most technologically savvy clients around. We had a chance to chat with him about innovation in advertising and its necessity.

note: Chris has since left his role at Adidas to pursue other opportunities.

IHAVEANIDEA: Give us some background about yourself, how does one end up being Head of Digital Marketing for Adidas’ Sports Style Division?

Chris: I began my career in the music business and learned the marketing and advertising industries’ basics are from that perspective. I then transitioned to the agency side, as a strategist a place in NY called Cornerstone. I did that for a number of years and a big component of the work we were responsible for had aspects of digital marketing. It was in early years of social marketing and online PR, so figuring out how it related to a broader strategy was essential to the work I was doing at Cronerstone. And when the time came, Adidas became my next step.

IHAVEANIDEA: You’ve been somewhat notorious for doing some pretty innovative stuff, when other clients have been pointing the finger at their agencies for jumping too quickly on any new technology that comes along. How important do you think it is for companies to be innovative in their communications?

Chris: I think innovation is extremely important. It’s an essential part of a solid marketing strategy, but it should always be developed through the lens of real strategic forethought. What I mean by that is that while technology presents tremendous opportunities to do things in new, different and spectacular ways, I think the smart brands utilize those capabilities with a real eye towards their strategic vision. And that vision should first and foremost be based around business objectives.

For example, we had a campaign using Augmented Reality (AR) where we put AR codes on shoes and developed an immersive experience that came out of that.

On one level, you could look at it and say that it’s gimmicky. Taking a new technology and attaching it to our products, we were able to create some excitement about that on a gimmick level. If you just look at it at that level we had an arguable success. We were the first ones to do it and it created some noise in the industry.

That’s just one level though and I don’t think that’s how brands should approach innovation. The level beneath that, which is the one the people the industry at large perhaps don’t see is that our embracing that technology was much more closely connected to a longer term vision. We want to start thinking about how our products themselves can become a natural extension of our consumers’ lives. We imagine that consumers will be able to interact with all kinds of information, whereas it’s gaming information or training information for our sports products, as will their friends and other consumers. So technology will play a part to connect consumers through that information. This project was about staking a territory in that regard. Taking technology and associating it directly with our products, with the philosophy that one day, in the future, we will be able to do that on a regular basis and turn our physical products’ means of communications with our consumers. So it wasn’t innovation for innovation’s sake. It was done with a vision of a place we don’t quite know yet, but we’re starting to take experiments in that direction.


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IHAVEANIDEA: How did that project come about exactly? Was it something you envisioned or did somebody at Sid Lee come to you saying “Hey, there’s this cool new technology everybody’s talking about…”

Chris: Well it is everybody’s job here to keep track of what’s going on in terms of technology and to think about it. This project specifically, was a unique opportunity where as brand marketers we could be involved in the product design process. Our product design team came to me and said that they wanted to experiment with some kind of a game experience. They had no idea whether it would be an online or offline experience. It was really an open brief and they just wanted to do something fun with a set of shoes. So I sat down with my team and the digital team at Sid Lee and we looked at all the potential technologies on the table, including AR. It was a technology we had all been discussing anyway, but we all thought this was an opportunity to do something interesting. So we sat down and formed the idea together. The beauty of our relationship with Sid Lee is that it’s very collaborative. We absolutely don’t follow the traditional client/agency model of deliver a brief, wait for an agency to send a response, send your feedback,…

The traditional model is broken, and only breeds a lot of excess spending by clients and a lot of excess work by agencies

IHAVEANIDEA: It’s interesting that you’ve developed such trust with them so quickly. The relationship is not exactly very old…

Chris: It is new, but I think that part of that is because of who’s sitting at the table. I come from an agency background, so I have strong feelings about the sort of relationships that get the best work. Thankfully the Sid Lee model and team accommodates for that.

IHAVEANIDEA: If we forced you to wear your “quarterly numbers” hat, how much would you say innovation relates to business objectives?

Chris: It’s about finding the right balance. Marketing always needs to be about pushing brand energy. You can take a step back and look at everything we did in the last year, and say we’ve really positioned this brand within our consumers’ mind as one that’s recognized for innovative executions. That part needs to be separate. It’s the top of your KPI pyramid, and you always need to keep that part independent of your direct commercial objectives. It’s just about making the brand hot. I also think that a very strong part of the base needs to be supporting your commercial needs, and that’s what helps you drive innovation. For me, it’s the most exciting thing because it becomes the challenge of how do you do something innovative that naturally and authentically makes people want to buy your products. So whether it’s about tying in technology to your products, or using the experience to showcase a new line of products like we did for the Death Star Super-Laser application, the challenge as I said is to achieve both.
deathstarlaser Chris Barbour, Head of Digital Marketing, Adidas

IHAVEANIDEA: Do you think ad industry standards and business standards as to what represent good work in terms of advertising are different?

Chris: I don’t think any client would settle for less, but this goes back to my point about collaboration. The traditional model is broken, and only breeds a lot of excess spending by clients and a lot of excess work by agencies. So you end up with relationships where a copywriter stays up working till 3AM on something only for the client to say it isn’t right. It all feeds into the cycle. Whereas had there been better collaboration earlier and a really clear sharing of the process, he wouldn’t have needed to work till 3AM because what the clients’ needs are would’ve been natural and instinctive. Or the client would’ve had an easier way to send his feedback earlier. That’s why I spend equal amounts, and sometimes more time at the Sid Lee office than I do it my own office.




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