Team Adidas has taken it upon itself to make sure you know.
The story of an eighteen year old Indian who has won four international medals and is a nine time national gold medalist is meaty enough to warrant the attention of several viewers across the nation. Adidas has taken it upon itself to tell the story of Nishchay Luthra, an Indian figure skater who is training in Florida for the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics.
The ad film which goes by the hashtag, '#FanTheFire', is a part of the brand's initiative to focus attention on athletes who pursue lesser followed sports. The ad begins with a voice-over (VO) by Luthra's mother in which she narrates the story of her son's journey in pursuit of his dreams. Throughout the VO, we are bombarded with lessons on hard work, determination and grit. The VO is accompanied by powerful visuals of Luthra training on an ice rink and at the gym. However, the most striking visual can easily be the one where we see his alarm going off at 3 A.M. (morning blues, anyone?).
Unlike cricket, figure skating is a sport with which many Indians do not associate or relate. In order to understand the brand's perspective behind selecting this sport, we decided to speak to Sean Van Wyk, senior marketing director, Adidas India. He tells us, "As a sports brand, our endeavour is to inspire the next generation athlete to take up sports. Whatever the sport, it shouldn't stop you from pursuing your dream. Unfortunately, there are various barriers that limit the focus of athletes to look at alternate sports, no matter how good an athlete is. Nishchay is fit for our brand and that resulted in figure skating being the sport represented. But this is just the beginning, and more sports and athletes will be celebrated."
The two-minute-long ad has no mention of the brand's product range. Adidas has even changed its Twitter handle name to 'Nishchay Luthra'. Wyk explains, "The #FanTheFire initiative is not about the brand at all, the initiative needs to bring Nishchay into limelight and thereby trigger the underlying question, 'Have we done enough to provoke people to recognise athletes that deserve to be in the spotlight, before they go and win a medal on the big stage?' #FanTheFire isn't an advertising pursuit; we will be very happy if this can lead to a collective war cry where other brands, people, athletes, all step in and own Fan-the-Fire."
"The idea behind this initiative is to create a ripple effect, starting with social media, to set a digital chain that goes beyond simply delivering the ad message. We did use the tool of influencers and better known athletes to seed the voice. With friends in media, we are confident about widening the reach through radio, print and television," adds Wyk.
The digital film which has been crafted and conceptualised by Cheil India, has been mostly shot in Florida, USA. Speaking about discovering Luthra, Vijay Simha, group creative director, Cheil India tells afaqs!, "A year ago, we noticed a series of articles about athletes of non-mainstream sports, who were reeling in obscurity despite achieving a lot at the national as well as international level. A track and field athlete working as a maid, a wrestler picking garbage, etc. This was in stark contrast to how cricket players were living. It all seemed so unfair. So, we felt an instinctive urge to do something about this. We started talking to Adidas about using the social media clout of their assets (the haves) to lift the less fortunate athletes (the have-nots) out of obscurity. It was around that time that we spotted an article about Nishchay. He was just 17, young and full of hope. More importantly, he dedicated himself to a sport that most Indians cannot even fathom. We found that aspect extremely inspirational. So we decided to kick start #FanTheFire with him."
Luthra who was a contestant at Colors India's Got Talent Season 7, is garnering support on Twitter from the Indian sport fraternity post the ad launch. Cricketers like K.L. Rahul, Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant have pledged support by changing their Twitter handle name or display picture.
"When we first contacted him (Luthra), he was on the verge of returning to India as he was running out of funds. So our call to him rekindled his hope of continued training. He did not have any apprehensions, but he was definitely unsure of our level of commitment as we were not from Adidas but from Cheil. Over the next one year, as we communicated regularly and made things happen, his apprehension turned into confidence," adds Simha.
Simha tells us that understanding the nuances of an alien sport and finding a director of photography (who could shoot while skating on ice!), was the toughest task. The ad was released on June 26, 2017.
Bullseye or strike out?
Nike's recent Da Da Ding ad or Reebok's #FitToFight campaign featuring Kangana Ranaut, brands in the shoes and apparel category routinely churn out stories of determination or portray a larger than life person to inspire viewers. However, Adidas' latest video takes a different turn by stressing only on the subject matter (Nishchay Luthra) and playing coy to brand promotion at large. We asked our experts about this new trend being adopted by various brands recently (Remember Micromax's father's day ad?).Be it
Soven Mandal, creative lead, DigitasLBi shares with us, "Most sports brands these days are pretty much saying the same things, and if I didn't happen to see the brand logo, I probably wouldn't notice the difference. Inspiration, determination and strength - these are the key ingredients to tell a story. Perhaps, the only way you're going to stand out as a brand is through unique storytelling, where you have the guts to move away from the popular sports norms of a country and showcase the story of a kid with grit who is fighting with the same spirit as every other athlete. Frankly, in this category, if you show the world something that's totally offbeat, you've caught their attention."
"If the ad really moves you, you will remember the brand. There is no two ways about it. Consumers have gone beyond gimmicks and now look at brands as personality extensions of themselves. That is where digital mediums give you the platform to tell those stories that otherwise would never be touched if the only objective was to sell. It's clearly a crowd sourcing campaign that's looking to instigate the country to join in and support Luthra. In the process, the brand has set itself apart from the rest by highlighting the athlete first, and creating a whole new platform for brand affinity by putting its selling objective second," Mandal adds.
Echoing similar sentiments, Siddhartha Vinchurkar, managing director, offshore, Mirum, tells afaqs!, "Although it is an excessively used concept, it is commendable that Adidas opted for a lesser or rather unknown sport and athlete. I believe, within the brand itself, it's a good step and deserves praise. This to me, is a long-term, big picture for the brand since the ad instigates curiosity about the brand. To an extent, the campaign would help generate awareness and a sense of urgency to support Luthra and perhaps pull him out of obscurity."
Vinchurkar however admits, "I feel ashamed of myself for not knowing Luthra prior to this ad!"
Brand: Adidas India
Creative Agency: Cheil Worldwide SW Asia
Creative Team: Sagar Mahabaleshwarkar, Vijay Simha Vellanki & Vinod Sivan Nishith Sidana
Digital Team: Sanjeev Jasani, Dibyendu Mishra, Arif Khan, Karan Lugani
Production: Gobsmack Entertainment
Director: Shivaji Sen
Producers: Mohit Rastogi & Shyam Madiraju