How Adidas Billie Jean King'd a whole lot of shoes
In time for the U.S. Open last year, Adidas and TBWA/Chiat/Day put the spotlight on Billie Jean King with the “Here to Create Change” campaign, which celebrated the legacy she left for women in sports, and for the athletic world in general. In contention for Glass and Titanium Lions, the campaign also included the much-talked-about activation in which Adidas, with the help of a shoe artist, transformed pairs of its own kicks as well as those of other brands into King’s signature blue-and-white striped sneakers.
Ad Age sat down with Amy Ferguson and Julia Neumann, the executive creative directors on the campaign, who discussed what it was like to collaborate with King, and what it took to create work that lived up to the legend.
"We always like to start with an insight,” Neumann says of the activation idea. “The insight was that Billie Jean King had a signature shoe back in the '70s and we found it was discontinued. And that kind of pissed us off, and we decided to bring the shoe back.”
The campaign also included out-of-home posters that earned a Gold Lion this week, as well as a film promoting the activation. Both depict her in a quirky but decidedly heroic light, set against backdrops of vibrant, saturated color.
“It was our goal to make her look as badass and as empowering as we could,” Ferguson says. “We wanted the ads to look so cool that a 14-year-old girl would put it on the wall … We really had to push how we showed her.”
On set, it turns out it took a bit of coaxing to get King to get into the shoot. “In the beginning, Billie was a little standoffish, but we curated a playlist for her and she eventually got into it,” Ferguson says.
With its various moving parts and the uncertainties that come with doing on-site experiences, the campaign itself was a trial. “We had to think like Billie Jean King to make it happen,” Ferguson says.
“The way Billie operated and the fact that she was so tenacious and she took a risk for the greater good was something we took away from that,” Neumann adds. “When she battled Bobby Riggs, she did it not just for competition sake, but for women.”