Marketing the Rainbow

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Adidas AG, stylized as ɑdidɑs since 1949, is a German multinational corporation, that designs and manufactures shoes, clothing and accessories. It is the largest sportswear manufacturer in Europe, and the second largest in the world, after Nike. 

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Adidas Pride Pack 2019
Adidas Pride Pack

Pride 2019: Love Unites

Gia Goodrich, a gay woman of colour was behind Adidas’ 2019 Pride campaign. “I believe in the adage, ‘Nothing about us without us,'” said Goodrich. “It’s important to work with creators who are a part of the communities they’re representing. Our industry is dominated by white, cis, hetero dudes telling the stories, our stories. The fact that adidas made a conscious effort to hire someone who is a part of and vocal advocate for the LGBT+ community is impactful”.

The 2019 pack featured pride-themed redesigns of four of their most popular trainers: the Continental 80, the UltraBOOST 19, the Adilette and Nizzas. The LGBT+ people in the campaign are: Venus X, The Last Artful Dodger, Flawless Shade, Ace Troy, Taylor Smith and Brandon Harris.

Pride 2018

Adidas recruited celebrities such as David Beckham, Rita Ora and Naomi Campbell to design their own take on the samba trainer for an Albert Kennedy Trust auction. This charity works to help and protect homeless LGBT+ youth.

David Beckham told Adidas at the time: “I have a young family and I want them to grow up in a world where they are given a chance, where they are part of that diversity and equality – things that are changing over the years.”

Rita Ora, who is bisexual, said that she designed one of the pairs of trainers because she thinks people should “have the freedom to be in love with whoever you damn well please.”


2014 controversy

In 2014, one day after announcing Olympic bronze medal-winning diver Tom Daley as the face of a new campaign, it emerged that adidas blocked the word “gay” from its customisable trainers bought online, as well as the words “lesbian”, “bisexual”, “trans”, and “homophobia”, next to actual offensive words such as “faggot”.

The beginning

The first hint re. Marketing the Rainbow was a 1999 black and white commercial, featuring either a drag queen or a transgender person. 

A few years ago, adidas started to celebrate Pride month with a special collection of articles. The brand joined in this regards brands like Nike, Vans and Converse that come up with a similar lineup to celebrate Pride month in June.

They also supported charities with those collections, and started to participate in Pride parades.

Pride 2015 hypebeast 2
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Pride 2015 hypebeast

Pride 2015

adidas Originals geared up to celebrate LGBT Pride Month around the world with the release of their first Pride Pack. Taking the brand’s most iconic silhouettes, they doused each one in a measured melange of bright colors, drawing inspiration from the rainbow flag. Underlining its efforts, adidas partnered with Portland advocacy group New Avenues for Youth and the Portland Monthly‘s “Flare” LGBT event, to which a portion of the sales from the Pride Pack were donated. Besides the shoes, the pack also included  accessories and apparel. 

adidas Pride Pack 2020
adidas Pride Pack 2020
collabration with Unity, a queer skateboarding project in Oakland
collabration with Unity, a queer skateboarding project in Oakland
collabration with Unity, a queer skateboarding project in Oakland
One of a number of  "city-personalized" T's
One of a number of "city-personalized" T's
adidas Pride Pack 2020
adidas Pride Pack 2020
collabration with Unity, a queer skateboarding project in Oakland
collabration with Unity, a queer skateboarding project in Oakland
adidas Pride Pack 2020
adidas Pride Pack 2020

Pride 2020 (Covid)

"At adidas, we believe love unites. Pride 2020 is about all the acts of love that bolster the LGBTQ+ community, especially in challenging times. We wish to combat the historic erasure that Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) have faced, both within the LGBTQ+ movement and beyond. Alongside our partners, Athlete Ally and Stonewall, we are committed to amplifying BIPOC LGBTQ+ voices in our work together.

This Pride month, we’re teaming up with athletes and advocates in the queer community, partner organizations and others to share real stories of inspiration, solidarity, and self-expression. 

We’re connecting in new ways, through video calls and FaceTime photoshoots, transcending boundaries both literal and figurative to bring together our adidas athletes and allies across the world. 

The #LoveUnites conversation is where we’ll share stories of Pride from all corners of the LGBTQ+ community, to highlight the diversity of identities and voices that love unites." 

The 2020 collection featured eight pairs of shoes, in line with what we've seen in the previous years, with a mix classic and modern sneakers. The partnership with Athlete Ally started in 2020, while

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Pride 2017

The 2017 Pride Collection consisted of the adidas Ultra Boost, EQT Support ADV, Crazy Explosive Low and the Superstar.

Each celebrated the vibrancy of the LGBT Community which embraces diversity. On the surface, each pair features a White and Black theme, however it goes deeper. Each model displays various shades of the rainbow flag. The Superstar and EQT Support ADV were decorated with various polka dots.

The press said: :"Adidas' New Pride Shoe Is the Coolest One Yet".

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adidas rainbow
Tom Daley, Olympic diver
Tom Daley, Olympic diver
Ashlyn Harris, NWSL soccer player for the Orlando Pride
Ashlyn Harris, NWSL soccer player for the Orlando Pride
Kai-Isaiah Jamal, artist & activist
Kai-Isaiah Jamal, artist & activist
Layshia Clarendon, WNBA basketballer New York Liberty & wife Jessica
Layshia Clarendon, WNBA basketballer New York Liberty & wife Jessica
Tarik Carroll, founder of the EveryMAN Project
Tarik Carroll, founder of the EveryMAN Project
Madonna Cacciatore, executive director of the LA Pride and wife Robin
Madonna Cacciatore, executive director of the LA Pride and wife Robin
Quinn Edlin, slam poet and activist
Quinn Edlin, slam poet and activist
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16 adidas pride pants
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Pride 2016

For Pride Month 2016, adidas Originals unveiled a new collection of footwear that paid homage to the LGBT community. Two iconic silhouettes, the Superstar and Stan Smith, were reimagined with paint splash graphics representing the rainbow flag. The colorful detailing extended to the insoles. There also were matching tops and pants. Proceeds from sales benefited partner Stonewall, who has been a partner of adidas since 2014.

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This article was last updated Dec 29, 2020

A special thanks to Valentijn Bouman and his colleagues at adidas for the additional information!

2014: Human Resources policy

In 2014, the company started paying (extra) attention to its LGBT employees. First of all, the HR policy was extended with domestic partnership benefits for healthcare, employees transitioning gender, and "inclusive parental benefits to include ALL parents, no matter how they choose to bring children into the world". They started to provide internal education to employees, and began attending LGBT+ recruiting conferences.

The first Employee Resource Group for LGBT employees was created in N America (Portland and Toronto), as well as in the HQ in Herzogenrath, Germany. They have a “Love Unites” page on their internal volunteering and donation platform for employees to get involved and donate their time or money to LBGT+ organizations.

As an iniative from the employees (mostly designers) a Pride Pack was proposed to, and approved by the Board. This was launched in 2015 (see below), the same year adidas participated in a Pride parade for the first time, in Oregon.

The company was started by Adolf "Adi" Dassler in his mother's house; he was joined by his elder brother Rudolf in 1924. In 1949, following a breakdown in the relationship between the brothers, Adolf created Adidas, and Rudolf established Puma, which became Adidas' business rival. An urban myth has promulgated the acronym as All Day I Dream About Sports.

The three stripes are Adidas' identity mark, having being used on the company's clothing and shoe designs as a marketing aid. The branding, which Adidas bought in 1952 from Finnish sports company Karhu Sports for the equivalent of 1,600 euros and two bottles of whiskey, became so successful that Dassler described Adidas as "The three stripes company".

2016 Valentine's Day

Digiday wrote: "The best way to get your brand to go viral on Instagram: make it about gay rights. Adidas drew the furor of anti-gay activists on Valentine’s Day with an image showing two pairs of obviously female legs, with one on tip-toes, apparently reaching up for a kiss."  The caption read: “The love you take is equal to the love you make.” The photo, which got 317,000 likes, got plenty of support, but also lots of anti-adidas comments. The company replied to each homophobic comment with a big emoji kiss, and comments like: “No, this day is for LOVE. Happy Valentine’s Day.”

At that time, adidas was the second most successful sports brand on social media (after Nike) with over 7 million followers. By December 2020 this number has grown to almost 26 milllion. The also have one of the highest follower-to-likes ratios on Instagram, besting even Nike. This makes a post like the 2016 Valentine's statement all the more significant!

Also, the partnership with Stonewall was launched, which continues until the present day.

The website states: "We need to see equal representation of LGBT+ people in all sport and fitness communities". According to the marketing department, this applies year-round, "as we stand for the LGBT+ community 365 days a year. We do this work through our partnerships with Athlete Ally and Stonewall, and our ongoing support of LGBT+ athletes."

They introduced a clause in their sponsorship agreements that said explicitly that those would not be terminated or modified if an athlete came out as a member of the LGBT community.

Adidas has a 100% score from the Human Rights Campaign.

2020 Stonewall FC

Early 2020, adidas also announced it was proud to be partnering with Stonewall FC. Marketing Week commented: "Adidas’s partnership with Stonewall FC could be a game changer. By linking up with a non-league football team, adidas is proving that the strongest stories are not always told by the best players." 

Founded in 1991, Stonewall FC were London’s first gay men’s football club and now the world’s most successful LGBT+ football club, having won 20 international trophies. The partnership with adidas will see Stonewall FC move to a new home in London – an inclusive space for all where their 1st, 2nd and 3rd teams will play and train as part of the 2019/20 season and beyond.

The space aims to continue to increase LGBT+ participation and representation in football.⁣⁣ By the end of 2020, they released three new kits for the 20/21 season and beyond, in collaboration with EA Sports. The kits stay true to the clubs traditional colors, whilst sporting the modern LGBT+ flag on the sleeves. A new Unity Team kit placed the colors of the #TransPride flag at the heart of the shirts design and was created as a clear demonstration of their solidarity with the trans community.


Althought adidas was very late to the game, basically joining the rest of the sports brands in the watershed around the 2015 SCOTUS decision, they have put thought into their communications. Partnerships with LGBT charities, and not the most likely ones, gives them extra credit. 

Adidas allowed users to customize various models of its trainer before purchasing, using an online system (miadidas). This system filtered certain words, and there was a “disallowed” list which included i.a. "gay" and "lesbian". The company came under fire from LGBT+ people but said at the time that they were forced to ban the words from their trainers as “a restrictive measure that unfortunately prevents both genuine and disruptive users from experiencing the miadidas offer.” They said it was a reflection of “the sad reality of the society we live in.” One month later, adidas backtracked and allowed gay and lesbian to be printed on the customisable shoes, whereas “bisexual”, “bi”, “trans”, and “homophobia” were still a no-go.

Nike iD, an equivalent service offered by Nike allowed users to write the words “gay” and “lesbian”, but blocks words such as “faggot”. NB The word “bisexual” was blocked by Nike iD, because there was a six-character limit on words for Nike iD.

Two weeks earlier, Coca-Cola was faced with a similar controversy, and pulled the plug on a ‘virtual coke’ website after a row erupted over the site filtering the word “gay”.

Case Study: adidas

branche: Fashion