101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior
Vice President Global Brand Communications at adidas Originals
"It’s much more about the culture of music versus just music by itself."
Alegra O'Hare, Vice President Global Brand Communications, adidas Originals
With 20 years of experience in marketing consumer goods for international companies such as the Sara Lee Corporation, Bang & Olufsen and VF Corporation, Alegra O'Hare is a true expert in brand communication. In 2007, she joined the adidas Group headquartered in Bavaria, Germany. In her most recent position as Vice President Global Brand Communications for adidas Originals, she leads the global marketing team that creates all consumer-facing content for the brand's lifestyle division. She is responsible for the entire marketing creative campaigns, including the award-winning “Your Future Is Not Mine” and “My Way” entertainment pieces. In the 101GreatMinds interview, Alegra pulls back the curtain on the creative process and explains how Originals strives to be an authentic, young brand that inspires consumers to never stop challenging the status quo.
Reese: Can you talk a bit about your role at SAP?
O’Hare: To be honest, I think it’s pivotal. It can make a boring campaign amazing. It’s universal and consumers connect with it in an authentic and impactful way. I believe it’s one of the elements we don’t talk enough about. For decades we have seen all different types of music genres adopt our brand. Music is rooted in our culture and has become part of our DNA, I mean we all have some sort of musical memory. Music can spark an emotion making it such an important element in creating meaningful bonds with consumers. If you can then attach it to campaign work, it can really turn it on its head.
Reese: Brands are in the trust-building business. Music is the direct way to the subconscious, where all buying decisions are made. How important is music in the consumer experience then?
Tillman: Our former CEO, Bill McDermott, always said that trust is earned in drops, but lost in buckets. As a marketer, that sentiment really speaks to me. Trust is personal and emotional and, at the end of the day, it’s the foundation of any stable and long-lasting relationship. If you don’t have trust, you essentially have nothing. Music can effortlessly transcend differences in geography and culture, and it’s a powerful form of expression that brands can and should make more use of to relate to consumers. Even though we are in the B2B business, we are selling to human beings. Through music, there’s an opportunity for brands to express themselves in a way that’s deeply human. I’ve always been a believer that music is an expression of values and beliefs. It can have a very special place when you are looking to tell your true story and connect with someone, especially when it reflects the brand identity in an authentic way.
Reese: Even the greatest idea can feel very lonely at first. How do you know that it will connect with the consumer?
O’Hare: I don’t think there’s a magic formula. I believe the higher the risk, the higher the reward. To me, it’s important that anybody who engages with anything they see or hear from us as a brand has a point of view immediately. It could be love or hate, it doesn’t have to be love all the time (laughs). But that immediacy is very important, I think. You need to have that edge, that strength in the campaign that will spark an emotion. Nowadays we don’t have the luxury of time to convince consumers about the brand, so when you’re creating campaigning work, it has to be very surgical and precise. To be honest, with My Way, we weren’t quite sure that Frank Sinatra really resonated with the collective memory of individuals across the globe, especially with our young target consumers. We were using a very historical track and had to ask ourselves how to make sure that it resonated with a consumer that may not have even heard the song before.
Reese: And it does not seem as if you just bought yourself a license and slapped it onto the film. Could the way you treated this iconic piece be the audible three stripes? The thing where I can close my eyes and tell that it’s adidas Originals
O’Hare: Exactly, it’s the truth, reality and coherence with the brand’s ethos that you have to bring across with music. I think those days, when you tried to get credibility impact just by paying a lot of money for a track, are over. Our past has undeniably created a synergy with musical movements. As diverse as our product is, so are the genres that have adopted the brand. It was natural affinity and authentic association between music and the brand. The common thread between all the different types of artists is their expression of individuality and personal style. In essence it’s an exchange of shared values. Originals celebrates individuality, creativity and personal style and everything we do is reflective of this mind-set. This gives us the creative freedom to have a range of diversity in whatever we do.
Reese: With adidas, it seems like it’s more about law of attraction than promotion. What’s the secret?
O’Hare: We have been working with music for decades and I think it’s much more about the culture of music versus just music by itself. I believe that’s the key in everything we do. All brands try to work with music somehow but I think you really have to understand how meaningful the culture of music is in the culture of society. For adidas, music literally came to the brand. Our brand spoke to these seminal artists like Beastie Boys and Run DMC and it just became part of our DNA. We’ve always focused a lot on culture and tried to bring it into our work taking an authentic approach.
Reese: If you look at Your Future Is Not Mine and Original Is Never Finished from a musical point of view – could you pull back the curtain a little bit on how you guys got there?
O’Hare: With Your Future Is Not Mine, the music came to the forefront of the creative development. We constructed that music piece on purpose so it went much more hand in hand with the visual creative element. The music and the visual would complement each other creating a harmonious narrative. Instead, with the song My Way, it was more about the coordination of creativity and showcasing the campaign work. The decision to use the song was instantaneous. As soon as our creative agency proposed it, I knew it was perfect. There’s no other song that can embody this message and it strikes such a chord with Originals and what the brand stands for. We knew that if we used it, we had to include Frank’s voice from the original track as part of the remix. After all, we are always set out to do it our way.
Reese: What is so special about the collaboration with Johannes Leonardo from a musical point of view?
O’Hare: With every creative partnership we enter there has to be a shared set of values and respect for creative freedom, and our partnership with Johannes Leonardo is a perfect example of this. We’re constantly in contact and exchanging information, whether it’s the creative development or the musical element. When we talk together about music we really dive deep. We talk a lot about how music has changed over the years and how social platforms are evolving the concept of music. Social media has created a generation of composers, so, when we were talking about remixing a song as part of our campaign, we really needed to make sure that the result would be something exceptional – because of just the sheer volume of great music out there. We’re always looking to cut through the noise to find what works for us. There’s a lot more thought that goes into the musical aspect than 10 or 15 years ago, when it worked like “Oh that’s a great track, let’s use it for our advert”.
"You need to have that edge, that strength in the campaign that will spark an emotion."
Reese: If there were an audio style guide for adidas Originals, what would it look like
O’Hare: With Originals, it’s always about challenging the status quo. Apart from that, the number one guidance that I would give is: Be real, Be truthful. Everybody tries to be authentic and unique but I think being truthful is a value that our consumers really connect with. They’re savvy, they can tell if something’s fake or if it’s just corporate and polished.
Reese: From your personal experience working on these incredible campaigns, is there some professional advice you can share
O’Hare: I think the most important thing, which is the hardest, is to take risks. Living in a corporate world, with an overwhelming responsibility towards the company, the brand, the people that are on your team, I think as a leader of the industry, you have to have the courage and confidence to take risks. I firmly believed that we needed Frank’s voice on the track because it’s part of the collective memory of music culture across the globe, and he was a true original – he was never finished. So sometimes you just have to be true to your ideas and go for it. Of course being in a high level position it’s difficult to take a chance, but in the end that’s part of the job as a leader. That mind-set trickles down, inspiring others to do the same. It’s so rewarding to be in a position empowering others to explore the limits and push the bounds of creativity, and it’s something I really believe in that is the key to success.
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