If you haven't seen the "Break Free" spec spot for Adidas, you should watch it now.
I'll admit, the video did give me feels. I partake in the occassional daliance with distance running. I know the joy of the sun on your skin as you kick up your feet and put the day and all of its distractions behind you.
But it's not just a love for running that makes the story. More than 8 million people have viewed the ad and the consensus seems to be that it's a "masterpiece." Adidas should pick up the spot and give this kid a job!
As a marketer, I appreciate the production values and the story film student Eugene Mehrer is trying to tell, especially since it makes the Adidas brand the critical ingredient to sending the story's hero on his journey.
But as a brand manager, I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole.
For starters, the story has some flaws. What kind of institution are we seeing? Different users have described it as a retirement community, an "old folks home" and even a mental institution. (I do get a definite Nurse Ratched vibe).
Is the spot as heartwarming if our runner is suffering from dementia? Or does it change the finale from "happily ever after" to cautionary tale? Not considering your audience's point of view can have serious brand implications. What you think is funny or charming can be read as degrading or dangerous if you change the context even a little. This video doesn't think it through.
Secondly, is this the story Adidas is trying to tell? Compare "Break Free" to the "Sport Needs Creators" ad Adidas debuted just this past fall:
The hyper camera cuts, focus on personal style and appeal to an almost entrepreneurial and artistic streak is a far cry from the humble runner of the spec ad. I'd venture the reason for the disconnect is simple: young people wear more athleisure apparel. There's a $44 billion market for clothes made for recreation, whether that's playing hard or doing hardly anything at all. Sure, seniors need shoes too. But are they going to drive the trend that makes your brand stand apart?
But perhaps the most compelling reason for Adidas to pass on the "Break Free" ad: they're already reaping the rewards of brand association without having to do anything. Viral campaigns, whether completed by accident or design, rarely have any staying power. For now, Adidas is getting the benefit of 8 million additional pairs of eyes on its brand—and the company hasn't had to say a word.
Maybe the tide will turn and public opinion will force them to make a decision or outright reject the spot. Or maybe (and more likely) "Break Free" will just run off from our memory, never to be bogged down by brand standards again.