TURNING MUHAMMAD ALI INTO A CHEAP CLICHE

Adidas' Ads Are Wrong for Fighter and Brand

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Client: Adidas
Agency: 180 TBWA, Amsterdam
Star Rating: 2

It's hard not to admire Apple's "Think Different" campaign. Trotting out such valiant iconoclasts as Albert Einstein, Jim Henson and Mahatma Gandhi,

The new Adidas ads turn a great fighter's image into a cheap cliche for supposed courage.

TBWA/Chiat/Day invites everyone to admire the creative spark that cannot be extinguished.

It also invites any dork with a Mac or a PowerBook to imagine himself a latent genius, marching to a different drummer and heroically rupturing the chains that enslave lesser men.

Another iconic figure
So now comes the latest version, featuring yet another iconic figure from the pantheon of brave individualists: Muhammad Ali. Here we see historical footage of him, digitally altered to include images of his now-adult daughter, Laila, and contemporary Adidas gear.

Wait -- Adidas gear?

Hey! It's not an Apple commercial after all! It's part of the new global TV campaign for Adidas shoes and apparel, from 180 TBWA, Amsterdam. And the slogan isn't "Think Different." The slogan is "Impossible is Nothing."

Get it? A little wordplay there, just like the Apple theme, only dumber and factually incorrect.

Running with endorsers
"Some people listen to themselves, rather than listen to what others say," Hannah Ali reads underneath the old film of her Dad's early-morning road work with the digitally superimposed company of Tracy McGrady, David Beckham and others. "These people don't come along very often. But when they do, they remind us that once you set out on a path, even though critics may doubt you, it's OK to believe there is no 'can't,' 'won't' or 'impossible.' They remind us it's OK to believe impossible is nothing."

Well, yeah, sure, victory is inspiring. But Muhammad Ali didn't become heavyweight champion because of his pluck, much less his shoes. He got there because of his blinding speed, agility, stamina and strength.

Now, had he won the title, say, without throwing jabs, or wearing a blindfold, or with prosthetic legs, that would be conquering the impossible.

Some things are impossible
Which, by the way, is impossible. Contrary to the campaign's central assertion, impossibility isn't some artificial construct of pessimists and losers. Going backward in time is impossible. Creating matter is impossible. For some people, pronouncing "nuclear" is impossible.

Nor does flip-flopping the words to "Impossible is nothing," illuminate anything -- but silly pretensions to deep thinking.

Let's put aside for a moment that this great fighter's image has become a cheap cliche for supposed courage. The big question is -- having been rendered nearly marginal by Nike all over the world -- why would Adidas rip off a campaign that fundamentally cedes category dominance to its biggest rival?

Apple, at least, does so in accordance with its longstanding business strategy of eschewing growth in order to retain its brand soul (or at least Steve Jobs' vision thereof.) It's a quirky philosophy, but "Think Different" is a perfect articulation of it.

Defeatist strategy
Adidas, by contrast, likely has no desire to be the Apple or the Dr Pepper of the sneaker industry. Yet the Dr Pepperization of the brand is precisely what this campaign would seem to announce.

Which is implicitly defeatist and ... irony with lousy.