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When Houston Rockets guard James Harden signed his sneaker deal with adidas in October 2015, the adidas basketball team wanted to “change the game” around the future signature launch, according to Mark Rasoul. The head of adidas basketball social media said it’s something that he and his colleagues are always considering as they work with different athletes.
“The basketball sneaker landscape is sort of at a standstill, whether it’s marketing or sneaker models in general. We looked at that,” said Rasoul about the plans for launching Harden’s shoe. “When we partnered with James, a big thing for him was collaboration and co-creation.”
As fans clamored for more information about the signature shoe, as Rasoul explained, he and his team together with Harden’s management team decided to buck the typical six- to eight-week lead campaign and instead stretch it across six to seven months, incorporating virtual reality and Instagram into the Harden Vol. 1 launch.
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Across a three-month stretch starting this summer, adidas conducted pop-up micro-launches in order to give fans, influencers and media a sneak peak of the shoe and the process behind it, an initiative it called Project Harden. For online, adidas created a specific Instagram account to drive engagement leading up to the national launch, which officially happened Dec. 3.
adidas and Harden kicked off the tour in mid-July at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino in Las Vegas for roughly 2,000 attendees. Future stops included Los Angles, Houston, Paris, Madrid, New York and other major cities.
The Las Vegas event centered around an off-line virtual reality component, the first time the technology had been utilized by adidas for any signature shoe launch. Rasoul equated it to a “roller coaster ride” of an experience.
As fans stood in a designated area while wearing Samsung Gear VR headsets, they could hear the floor rumble and shake and feel wind shoot past them as James virtually blew by them dribbling down the court.
The immersive experience took a full day to capture with Harden and six to 10 weeks of post-production work by adidas to bring the experience together. With the first virtual reality test case in the books, Rasoul didn’t rule out future signature launches designed with the technology integration in mind.
“We were able to show the product in a very premium and 3-dimensional way. 2-D image doesn’t give you that much context. . . . The experience was so well-received by our fans and our partners that to date now, it exists in over 20 retail stores that are actually selling the (Harden Vol. 1) shoe,” said Rasoul, adding that there are also headsets inside the new tech-oriented Manhattan store for consumers to view as well.