amp sound branding


Paul Gaudio,
Global Creative Director, Adidas


paul gaudio

As Global Creative Director at Adidas, Paul Gaudio heads the creative leadership across all Adidas brand and consumer touch points. Gaudio earned a degree in Industrial Design from Carnegie-Mellon and over the last 25 years has held a variety of key roles including: Director of Design at adidas America, Co-Founder, I-Generator, a boutique innovation consulting firm in Portland OR, Director of Design and Development, Norton Motorcycles, Head of Strategy, adidas Sport Performance, and most recently Vice President of Digital Sports, where he championed the idea of extending the Adidas brand into the interactive space.

Reese: Paul, how important do you think is music in branding?

Gaudio: I think it’s very important when it comes to bringing a brand to life. It can help catch the consumers’ attention – but also ground a brand in culture. How important it is on a more subtle level, at the consumer touch points like retail? – I can imagine that it would be a valuable thing to take on, but I couldn’t tell you that we have tackled that with any focus.

Reese: Billboard Magazine has called Adidas the “kingpin of music collaborations.” But if you look at the partnerships you’re involved in with artists like Kanye and Pharrell – you don’t hire them to produce music for you, right? 

Gaudio: Correct. They’re cultural influencers, cultural drivers, in a broader sense. Of course, they do reach people for their music, it’s their primary voice, their primary contact point to culture, to consumers. But it’s less about the music they make and more about them as creators and influencers. We connect with people who share similar values in design and creation. At Adidas, we like to learn from these artists, and at the same time support and enable them to create outside their usual art form. It’s a partnership approach where we offer capabilities, knowledge, know-how, brand resources… and they offer us inspiration, new impulses and insights, while they also increase our reach. We don’t look at it purely from a marketing perspective - it’s a cultural connection. Music is a big part of that. It’s part of who they are, and it’s a part of our relationship with them as creators.

Reese: These artists are extremely credible in the music world. They’re more than just singers and producers. I found it very interesting that they went with Adidas. I read in an interview that you said they take you outside of your comfort zone, to places that you usually wouldn’t go. 

Gaudio: adidas is all about the combination of sport and creativity - sport and culture. These guys are a reflection of that relationship and an expression of our brand identity. They bring in new influences into our work. We obviously partner with athletes as well, and even there, we look for individuals who reflect the connection between sport and creativity, sport and culture. Those worlds are so seamless today, the lines are blurred. One of my favorite examples is Damian Lillard – Dame DOLLA, a great basketball player, who also happens to have a rap game too. He is credible, authentic on and off the court. His music is part of who he is. He’s not just a basketball player, he’s more than that, he has power off the court, he’s creative. And we like people like that.

Reese: A lot of other brands like to borrow equity from guys that become pop culture. But you live in the center of that culture. What about music, and audio – do you guys think about audio in a strategic way?

Gaudio: We have been reshaping and redefining our brand over the last couple of years. A lot of that starts with defining our brand – with basic brand-positioning, who we are, what we are all about. A Creator Brand is always doing this, pulling from within and sharpening and shaping that narrative… but then also pulling from outside of the brand and learning from that and allowing ourselves to be inspired by things beyond our four walls. Collaboration is essential to creativity. Musicians, entertainers are all part of that. How we use sound in the brand beyond this is something that we have on our list, something we’re beginning to consider. We’re advertising more on television, we’re investing more in retail, and there are a lot of opportunities for us to have a stronger point of view there. How we look and feel, but also how we sound – all those things matter. 

Reese: Would you say that a brand should have the same discipline in their audio behavior as it has in its visual behavior? 

Gaudio: All of your senses help you formulate opinions, responses and reactions. A brand would be smart to play with as many of these sensual experiences as possible, so yes. It just increases a consumer’s chance to connect and have an emotional reaction to what we do. Why is music in branding more random-seeming? Partly because music is a reflection of culture in the moment, and it changes really quickly. New artists are dropping new material all the time. There’s such a high rate of evolution. That’s why I think that if you should get stuck on something, it can age you. My perspective is: You want to ride a wave. You want to be a part of that culture as much as you can, as much as you can, not just borrow or rent.

My perspective is: You want to ride a wave. You want to be a part of that culture as much as you can, as much as you can, not just borrow or rent.

That’s also the advantage of partnering with the people we talked about. You learn about what they value, what motivates them, what inspires them, and it can influence you. Music, for us, is more of a connection point than a brand-defining tool. Music is part of our brand DNA, but not one musican, one type of music, or one sort of sound or mnemonic device. Some brands have certain defined sounds that come with your brand at different touch points… and I think those are powerful. I’m just not sure it makes sense for a brand like adidas. People know who we are, it’s not about recognition or recall, but rather the quality of the impression we leave that matters. Honestly, we would love to do more with music, but there are so many restrictions around rights and licensing etc, If it were a little easier, we’d be getting much more into it. 

Reese: What does the future for music and Adidas look like? Is there a certain direction you’d like to go in? Where do you see yourselves in a year, or in five years?

Gaudio: We intend to continue to be connected to the culture of music and its creators. It is so critical and relevant for the culture that we live in, sports, entertainment, music… it all feeds off of itself. We will always be a part of it and be connected to it. And we always have been – think of Run DMC, who set the tone for us and have defined the role that music can play for our brand. Did we ask them to write that song? No, we didn’t. Did we partner with them because we felt they reflected the cultural values of our consumers at the time? Yes. We had the song “Your Future is Not Mine” by Daisy Hamel-Buffa earlier this year as a key component of our Originals campaign. This was a great example of using music as part of our brand narrative. The music was the message in this case, and was a pretty powerful one at that.

Reese: If you look at brands like Coca-Cola or Intel, they clearly see music as a financial asset. How does Adidas deal with that? Do you guys have a publishing company? Is it important to you to own copyrights? There’s so much music involved in Adidas’ brand communication, after all.

Gaudio: It’s not something we spend time on. We spend a lot of time on music and using music to fuel partnerships or accompany our communications, but I certainly don’t think that we spend a lot of time trying to create or to own in that sense, no. We talk about it and I think that there are opportunities. And there are brands out there doing it. I’ve heard that Converse have recording studios, Red Bull, I think it’s really interesting what they’re doing. I could see us getting involved in that at some point. Not as a creator of music ourselves, but more as an enabler for others to create music. 

Reese: Can you talk about the process when it comes to decision-making around music in your brand communication? How do you guys go about that? Do you measure the ROI on music decisions?

Gaudio: We don’t have a formalized process. We have people we partner with to gain those insights, to understand where we want to be and what’s relevant to us. What can help us drive our point of view home. If you look the latest Originals film we did, the music was a key aspect of the message. The music, the sound and the lyrics told the story. That’s not always the case. We usually select music more for attitude or currency. In this case, it was a much deeper part of storytelling. It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve.

Reese: How did you pick that particular song?

Gaudio: I didn’t make that decision myself. It was the Originals team working with their agency, and working on the brand message. Who are we, what do we want to stand for, and how can we best make an impact on consumers? That’s the conversations we have, and we bring in different options, different artists. Sometimes it works out straight away, and sometimes you have to make changes, or it might not be worth the cost. Sometimes, when you’d like the music to play a larger role, you have to be careful that the spot doesn’t become all about the music and less about the brand itself. There are all these conversations that you have to have to balance that out. Looking back at our history, I think we didn’t let music define us in a way that we connect ourselves to one famous song. We rather tell our own story and let the music enhance that story, or be a part of that story.

Reese: Would you agree that the right choice of music can change consumer behavior?

Gaudio: I definitely do.

Reese: It’s kind of a redundant question, as you’ve done that several times with Adidas.

I definitely think music changes how people perceive you. It even changes how we perceive ourselves, honestly.

Gaudio: I definitely think music changes how people perceive you. It even changes how we perceive ourselves, honestly. It’s so emotional. I’m sure that if the music had been different, I would have thought differently of our Originals spot. But there are other spots where the music isn’t the message, where it’s more about carrying the energy or the flow or the storyline of the piece. It depends of the objective, or the purpose.

Reese: Do you measure the return on investment in your music choices?

Gaudio: I’m not involved in that directly, but we do look at it. The partnerships we’re involved in cost money. We’re measuring the impact, we’re measuring the reach, we’re measuring the message.

Reese: Is there an aspect we haven’t touched upon that you would really like to talk about?

Gaudio: For us, it’s not about a cynical or transactional view to music. To me, it’s branding, if we’re in the conversation, if we’re a part of the culture. It doesn’t have to be a specific sound that plays every time the logo appears. There doesn’t have to be a specific soundtrack in our stores. Personally, I don’t feel that’s right for us. It’s too prescriptive. To us, branding is much more about what we’re a part of, what we’re participating in. What we do, where you see us. Where we show up. Do we make it to the playoffs? Do you see us at the All-Star Game – or on the streets in key cities. That’s more important to us in terms of branding – and music obviously is a big part of that: How we engage with it and the people that create it, and the role we play in their lives and their culture. Rather than applying something to our brand and saying, “Yes, that’s us,” it’s more about how we live, where we live, where we show up, how we act.


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