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Epic Marketing Fails & how to avoid them - Nike and Adidas

Updated: Feb 15, 2021

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Global Brands make Marketing mistakes too

I remember the day I was reading the news and articles on two global sports brands jumped out at me for all the wrong reasons. The brands? Nike & Adidas

Where was the concept testing?

In both cases major failures have occurred costing millions of pounds & irreversible brand damage. My first thought having read up on both was how did their testing processes go so wrong?

No 'i' in team? Or just no ideas?

It makes me wonder about the make up of the teams they had in place, whether they were made up of the sorts of people who felt they could challenge the ideas they were seeing, & how limited the consumer testing element must have been. The following is a quick recap of what has occured.


In 2019 Nike created a trainer 'Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July' featuring the Betsy Ross flag

The Betsy Ross Flag has in the past been associated with extreme right wing America.

After the trainers release it was immediately pulled from sale following criticism from Colin Kaepernick a high profile sports star.

Nike trainer showing the Betsy Ross flag design. Image from

Quoting The Wall Street Journal

“After images of the shoe were posted online, Mr Kaepernick, a Nike endorser, reached out to company officials saying that he and others felt the Betsy Ross flag is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery.”

From scanning Twitter however it appears many Americans would defend the trainer and Nikes choice to use the flag.

The decision to can the shoe has apparently lost Nike the opportunity to build a manufacturing plant in Arizona after the governor Doug Ducey (source USA Today) pulled his support of Nike.

“Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism,”

Ducey wrote in a series of Tweets.


Adidas created an online campaign where they allowed users of Twitter to put their own Twitter handles on the back of a virtual shirt, which was then tweeted out from the @adidasUK account.

The sports company's campaign backfired terribly as shocking messages appeared on the back of the new Gunners shirt. Twitter has launched an investigation after Arsenal’s Adidas kit launch was hijacked by racist social media users.

The personalised design was even available to order as part of their ‘Dare to Create’ campaign.

There were also references to Madeleine McCann and the Hillsborough disaster.

An Adidas spokesperson told the Huffington Post: “As part of our partnership launch with Arsenal we have been made aware of the abuse of a Twitter personalisation mechanic created to allow excited fans to get their name on the back of the new jersey.

“Due to a small minority creating offensive versions of this we have immediately turned off the functionality and the Twitter team will be investigating.”

Complete failure of testing

You would imagine that a company like Nike would have vigorous consumer testing of their designs before they even got to the stage of being made up into a shoe wouldn't you?

Feedback is so important to any company big or small.

What you can learn from Nike is that its really important to seek a large range of feedback, dont just ask your employees because they may not tell you what they think immediately.

This has been referred to before in works such as Malcolm Gladwells 'Outliers'. Lower status employees may be scared to tell their higher ups that they don't like an idea.

Cult of personality is such that big characters at a senior level may create a culture where those below don't want to disappoint so they don't criticise an idea.

What can you learn from Nike & Adidas?

1) Feedback is important - Show lots of people your ideas before launch! Get feedback from a large pool. You don't have to act on it but someone might just catch a huge failure before it gets through the net.

2) Create Dialogue -Make sure you have proper feedback loops in place with your customers, nurture a relationship of asking people what they think about things, create dialogue, maybe consider formalising it with panels and groups who agree to provide you with feedback.

3) Don't blindly allow user generated content to go live! - I am so surprised that the team at Adidas didn't see the chance for mischief with their campaign idea.

It is not the first time hashtags have been misappropriated. Trusting people to only use a hashtag for good seems very naive.

And the time it took them to actually react and get this offline is also of concern. Surely a company of this size has the resource to employ moderators?

4. Create diversity of everything in teams - Make sure the team you work with have a range of experience, you may miss something but someone else may have seen it before and nip it in the bud. Make sure your teams are from lots of backgrounds and have lots of experience in the right field. Surely anyone who regularly uses Twitter could have seen this coming?

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Thanks for reading


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Thank you for visiting my page and reading my article. If you would like to read more like this sent straight to your inbox I send one Marketing themed email out per week on a Friday. Sign up here where you'll also receive a free chapter of my book 100 Marketing Tips for Small Business Owners straight to your inbox.

About Me

Shona Chambers Marketing is a Marketing Agency based in SE London.

Specialising in helping Small Business Owners and Freelancers with their Marketing.

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