WhatsApp case study: Adidas helps amateur football teams with 'rent a ringer' hotline

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In February 2020, sportswear brand Adidas created a Whatsapp hotline to help amateur football teams replace missing players last minute...with some global superstar talent. This social media stunt didn't just achieve marketing goals, but 29 actual goals at sunday league football matches across the UK.

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Case study summary

  • Adidas needed to stand out from competitors like NIke by going to where their biggest customers spend most of their time online

  • Wanted to capitalise on 'closed' WhatsApp groups used to organise football matches

  • TV, outdoor and online pushed a WhatsApp 'hotline' for people to message

  • Football star Kaka helps generate earned media news headlines and 5 million social media views to boost brand awareness
  • The challenge

    Adidas launched the latest iteration of its Predator football boots with a campaign that focuses on the competitive advantage the boots provide players. In a saturated market of sports shoes, and in a bid to stand out from rivals Nike and Reebok, Adidas wanted a modern and relatable way of reaching its target market of amateur football players in the UK.

    This core market often organise their amateur sunday league football teams via WhatsApp groups- a notoriously difficult 'dark social' channel to reach via advertising (where brands can’t track the source of users and social spaces where they’re unable to advertise).

    The solution

    The main TV and online camapign centred on a '100% Unfair' campaign was created by TBWA\Neboko, Netherlands to introduce Adidas’ new Predator Football boots: the Predator 20 Mutator. In an online video, Adidas promotes the innovative new features of the boots and emphasises the unfair advantage they confer on those who wear them.

    The boot is advertised to have Demonskin, an layer of material designed to give footballers a greater grip on the ball, allowing them to generate more spin. The texture is spiked and wraps around the front and side of the boot, designed to align with key points of contact with the ball. In the campaign launch video, footballer Paul Pogba and former footballer David Beckham show off the boots and how the spiked layer enhances their skills, while others comment on the unfairness of the product.

    The real hook in this camapign was an an activation on WhatsApp in London, created by agency Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Adidas set up a Rent-a-Pred hotline that amateur teams could contact to replace a team member who had dropped out last minute. The replacement player would then turn up wearing the new Predator 20 Mutator boots for the game.

    Further support in publicising the WhatsApp hotline number was provided by OOH outside the adidas LDN Flagship, content published on partner channels such as The F2, Hashtag United, Fulham FC and Arsenal FC, and PR outreach to media and communities.

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    Adidas-sponsored players were made available for games last week once fans had shared some basic information with the hotline such as the game they need the player for. The company’s marketers would notify fans on the morning of their game if their request was successful. The rented players turned up dressed in Adidas’ new Predator20 Mutator footwear.

    The Rent-a-Pred campaign lasted for six days (4-9 February) and teams were notified the morning of their match as to whether their request has been accepted. The footballers recruited were some of London’s top talent, including the F2, a UK football freestyling collective, and members of the Adidas family, including former England Legend Eni Aluko.

    Aluko turned up to play a six-a-side game in Hoxton, London for a Sunday league game, scoring five goals and securing a 7-6 victory for the women’s team. Another star to participate was former Brazilian national and Ballon d’Or winner Kaka, who played in a seven-a-side game in North London.

    Results

    The Rent-a-Pred players had a 92% win rate across all the games they participated in and contributed 29 goals. The clip of Kaka was featured on Sky News, Sky Sports News, ITV News bulletins and over sixty online publications. While, on social platforms, the Kaka appearance reached over 5 million views during the campaign.

    Why this campaign matters

    WhatsApp has around 2 billion users globally, but remains free of advertising. Despite this, Adidas has been one of the most successful brands in the world at encouraging fans to join groups on these platforms, called Tango Squads, where those connected receive information about Adidas products before anyone else.

    This has allowed Adidas to build an intimate relationship with consumers across the globe, and the Rent-a-Pred campaign is another strong example of this strategy. WhatsApp is a key destination for social groups, sporting or otherwise, and finding relevant ways of getting people to include a brand in these private spaces is a challenge where many fail.

    “It’s allowed us to build direct relationships with a smaller community of influential people in an ongoing way that doesn’t feel transactional and allows for a conversation, rather than just a broadcast,” said Laura Coveney, managing editor for Adidas’ newsroom in London where the campaign was managed.

    “We know our audience use it to share fixture info, team selection — and team-mates messaging to find last-minute replacements,” said Coveney. “WhatsApp was perfect for the more functional elements of the ‘Rent-a-Pred’ hotline as it allowed consumers to share private information one-to-one with us for review, before being allocated a Predator player near them.”

    The open rates for messages in WhatsApp will be “immensely” higher than message platforms’ closest competitor, email. Brands that get this right will be the ones that understand just how private message platforms are and how privileged they are to be invited in.

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