Adidas gets ‘down with the kids’ and takes on dark social

‘Dark social’ could change the face of influencer marketing, if Adidas’ forthcoming campaign proves successful.

Speaking at the Festival of Marketing this week, Adidas spoke of its plans to create dark social squads of hyper-connected football fanatics, who will use direct messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and Line to communicate their brand message, among their trusted online communities.

The Tango Squads, named after one of Adidas’ first footballs apparently, will be made up of groups of 16-19-year-old football content creators, living in 15 cities around the world. The squads will be comprised on between 100 and 250 people, and Adidas is hoping to reach around 500 members per squad by the end of next year.

With one-to-one messaging increasingly dominating the social space, Adidas is trying to get more personal in its communications with football fans, and rightly so. While influencer marketing is booming, dark social is the missing piece of that puzzle, and it forms quite a significant chunk. According to RadiumOne, inbound web traffic coming from dark social, such as via links from email, forums or instant message, accounted for 74 % of all online sharing activity in the UK in 2014.

“Younger audiences are increasingly using these more ‘private’ channels because of the amount of advertising on regular social media channels – and to avoid their parents’ prying eyes” (Catalyst Magazine 2016).

As part of its dark social activity, Adidas will share exclusive content and product news with its squads, before publishing on its Twitter and Facebook channels. They will also receive invites to events and access to Adidas’ brand ambassadors, from athletes through to artists. 

“It’s not about sheer reach; what the hyper-connected kids bring is mass awareness,” explained Adidas’ senior director of global brand communications, Florian Alt, on stage at the Festival of Marketing. “These are the guys who will push out your stories and content. They give it longevity and authenticity, because they are talking in a private messaging environment. If it comes as a referral from your mate, you’re much more likely to pick it up than if it comes from a brand.”

It’s exciting that Adidas is exploring the potential of dark social, and it’s one of the first brands brave enough to do so. While it’s an experiment and results are a while off, it’s easily a step in the right direction.

Measurement will undoubtedly be tricky, owing to the private nature of dark social, and also because the campaign approach is so new and untested. On the whole, Adidas will rely on the local teams who manage the squads to report back on the how well the content has been received, and the conversation and action it’s triggered.

Authenticity is critical to any brand efforts in dark social. Businesses wanting to understand more about dark social can read further in this earlier post entitled: ‘Dark social, and what you need to know about it’.

For brands wishing to gain a foothold in dark social, here are our five best practice tips…

  1. Spend time getting to know your audience, and dig deep to understand their journeys and the dark social channels they are using.
  2. Begin with a small test budget to explore the possibilities, and to see if dark social works for your brand and audience.
  3. Think carefully about how you will measure success. Can you create an algorithm for dark social traffic and where it is originating from, or is a rules-based approach preferable? Use trackable URLs wherever possible.
  4. Authenticity is crucial. Be aware that you are moving the conversation into a very personal space, and so you need to be educated and on top of what truly excites and interests your dark social audience.
  5. Use a mix of content, including video and images, tapping into all the features the private messaging platform has to offer.

This is easily one of the most exciting spaces to keep watch of next year!

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