Adidas boss: China is ripping up the rule book of marketing

CurrieThe head of one of Adidas’s largest divisions Colin Currie has spoken about the challenges of marketing in a country as complex and diverse as China.

Speaking at yesterday’s Global Marketer Conference in Sydney Currie said most business people and marketers misunderstood both the complexity and opportunities that China presented and how this would redefine global business.

“(China) turbocharged by global economic forces and by sheer weigh of numbers is ripping up the rule book,” said Currie. 

Currie who oversees thousands of sports brand Adidas stores across China said that marketers should not look at China like one market but rather understand its various nuances.

“The clearest expression of our understanding of China is: one country but two worlds,” Currie told the audience. “Across all dimensions China feels like a country pulling in two directions.

“One trying to look to the future, the second weighed down by its past. One is the world of sky scrapers, like Shanghai trying to be the biggest capitalist city in Asia, but the other is a 600 million population who live on less than US$2 a day.”

Currie argues that the scale of the market is not the only issue for business and that the changing pace of business in China represented a challenge and opportunity.

“The China challenge is not only about scale. It’s is also about pace,” he said. “Everything is changing everyday — 50 per cent of the people who will be US dollar millionaires in five years time have next to nothing today.

“China is developing at such a fast pace by 2025 China will have ten New York cities of today.”

He said that marketers should avoid the ‘cookie cutter’ approach and recognise that they need a different approach for different markets within the country.

He added: “It is one country but two worlds, but it is a mistake to treat people as if they are the same — a one size fits all. Big place, big numbers but one of the most complex markets on earth.

“In high tier cities China is sophisticated like any cosmopolitan city in the world but in lower tier cities it is like India or Indonesia.

“For Adidas that means in higher tier cities we have to have a different go to market strategy where we defend marketshare by fighting for consumer’s share of wallets.”

Currie expanded on his approach to these challenges for Adidas saying: “In lower tier cities it is just about opening stores. We opened 1,000 stores in 2012 and 700 stores in 2013.

“Talk to consumers, for the first group consumption is about personal identity for the second it is about a sense of belonging. For higher tier consumers it is about individuality and being cool, for lower tier consumers it is about aspiration – how can I become cool.”

He also spoke about the importance of data and market intelligence in strategy telling the audience that Adidas keenly watched which markets fast food brand KFC expanded into.

“Brands need to consider geography. They need to consider city tier and consider the right distribution model and where to expand their market,” he said.

“A footprint strategy will be key to their success. We invest a lot by mapping cities by economic, demographic and psychographic data. Understanding gross trends is important. We follow Kentucky Fried Chicken whenever they go into a lower tier city we will follow.

“Understanding gross trends and then mapping marketshare provides an insight into opportunity: which cities are prioritised and will be key to our retail expansion and success.”

Nic Christensen 


Get the latest media and marketing industry news (and views) direct to your inbox.

Sign up to the free Mumbrella newsletter now.



Sign up to our free daily update to get the latest in media and marketing.