Jenny Pham is one of the adidas Originals' masterminds who worked on the award-winning "Your Future Is Not Mine" and "Original Is Never Finished" campaigns. She has been the Global Director of Communications and Brand Marketing at adidas Originals since 2015 and has 12 years of experience in brand communication of several fashion and lifestyle companies, specializing in brand strategy, digital & social strategies, corporate partnerships and content production. In the 101GreatMinds interview she talks about the importance of consumer obsession and how the brand is increasingly taking on the role of an entertainer.
Reese: How did the brand adidas get to where it is today? What is it that adidas do differently in speaking to the consumer?
Pham: I think it’s about consumer-obsession. Consumer obsession is what drives everything, and it’s not something to be taken lightly. We truly want to create content that entertains and challenges the idea of traditional advertising. It should speak to the consumer by giving the audience a deeper look into our brand and community. There are two ways to be consumer-obsessed: there’s data, engagement rates - let’s say the non-sexy side of things. And then there’s the other half in consumer-obsession, which goes beyond “marketing insight” and truly gives the audience something that resonates by entertaining them, maybe even making them feel a bit uncomfortable, and confront them with ideas that are bubbling up under the surface that they may not have addressed themselves. The data says we want shorter content, for example. But then the question becomes: is it shorter content or is it better content? The second part is attention span. We set out and made a 90 second film in a time where people were like “No, we need to make things shorter, and more bite-sized”, but we were saying: “Maybe they don’t care about 15 second content because it’s not good!” So, instead of putting out content that is shorter and easier to digest, we wanted to put out better content. That goes hand in hand with the music piece. Instead of making a commercial, we made real entertainment pieces.
Reese: We’re obviously talking about the pieces Your Future Is Not Mine and Original Is Never Finished. How important is music in these two films?
Pham: When you make an entertainment piece like that, the brand becomes the entertainer, the brand becomes a music video generator, the thing you want to engage with and something that you either aspire to or reflect with or share with your friends. So, music plays a big part in that, it’s the only true global language, which, yes, is sound, but also obviously visual - we basically made music videos. We started to do that as a way to create our own language. And if you look at the trend now within the industry… we’re very proud of the fact that …
Reese: … you got copied! (laughs)
Pham: We don’t mind copying, that’s not negative, I think you just want to be part of a trend, that’s how you know you’re doing a good job. Because the question is not: Is content King? - everybody agrees that it is. The question is: What’s the key to unlock that and to turn a brand into an entertainer at every touchpoint? And music has been a big part of that.
Reese: Is Music a strategical question for you? Is it involved from the very beginning when starting a new campaign?
Pham: Yes, it’s strategic. But it's always led by the message. Whether it's an original or a historical track, the idea always leads the music.
Reese: Who came up with the idea of putting the Sinatra song into Original Is Never Finished?
Pham: It was the agency that rediscovered the song. And then for us the question was: Do we put the original himself – Mr Frank Sinatra in it or do we not? And on the brand side, it was very clear that we needed to put Frank into it, unanimously. Frank was a key part of it.
Reese: What do the two songs have in common?
Pham: I have to say, My Way and Your Future Is Not Mine are strategically in line. If you listen to them without the visuals, the thing that they have in common is that they’re both quite anthemic, mobilizing. The word that we always get from everybody, no matter what, is ‘goosebumps’. That’s the thing especially with My Way, it was unanimously: ‘goosebumps’, ‘goosebumps’, ‘goosebumps’, no matter who we showed it to. When we aired it during the Grammy’s, my phone was completely blowing up – people were like “Holy shit, you worked on this?” - that kind of reaction. And we know it was the music that had a big part in that.
Reese: How does music affect shareability?
Pham: If you look at the comment section below our videos on Youtube, first of all, people think that we’re part of the illuminati and devil worshippers (laughs), but the second most popular comment you will find is “What song is this? Can I download it?“. Without music, that wouldn’t be possible, without music, the shareability wouldn’t be there. I don’t mean social media, I mean dark social, sending it to your friends, thinking ‘My friends need to see this’. We can’t measure it but that’s the real success. When you’re sending it to your six best friends or your favourite colleague, that’s the sign of us truly being part of the conversation.
Reese: That’s right, I only share things with my close friends when I know it adds value to their day. Looking at the music in these two pieces - at the end of the day - is that the sonic ID of adidas? Is that the audible three stripes, the essence of the essence of the essence?
Pham: For me, it goes way beyond. Looking at the list of artists we typically work with, there’s a lot of hip-hop and trap music. You would think that we would take that and put that into a commercial, because that’s the obvious connection. But we wanted to go beyond contemporary/popular music. We wanted to speak to people’s fears and worries, like Trump becoming President - issues that our audience is concerned about. We never talk about specific matters but rather allude to the broad themes. So it’s not as much about creating a sonic identity than it is about sharing a mindset with our audience. It's really about tapping into the mindset of our time and inspiring with subtle messages through music.
Reese: Was Your Future Is Not Mine originally written for the campaign?
Pham: Yes, it was written specifically for the commercial. That was important because the message was: We were at a different place with our brand. We knew we needed something that represented something so specific. Not to say that My Way is not specific, but Your Future Is Not Mine is something very specific to say. So, the commercial inspired the song, the song did not inspire the commercial. And that’s what I mean about having the strategic foresight to say: Hey, this is going to be a huge element of this. We knew this was going to be a tool that was indispensable for this message.
Reese: When you think of Run DMC, Pharrell, Kanye, all the artists you’ve been connected to - how did adidas get this great hand of people?
Jenny & Uli at Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity 2017.
Pham: I think it’s credibility and authenticity. If you do those two things right, then you attract the right people and the right talent. And the artists know that, and they smell the lack of credibility and lack of authenticity. They’re attracted to our message, our feel, our authenticity, the perception even, the product - they want to be associated with it. The nature of the business is that a lot of people want to work with us and we sometimes can’t afford them. It just says a lot about us, and I think the reason why is because we stand for the ‘creator message’ and we want to be there when they’re experimenting with music, we’re there even when they’re getting arrested (laughs) – that’s a really big part of being a musician when you’ve got a target on your back. We don’t turn our back on every single artist that gets into hot water. They know that we’re a corporation but we don’t have the corporation mentality.