Adidas’ “Guerrilla Gardening”. When unconventional marketing goes green

March 15, 2017
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This text is taken from Social Guerriglia. Semiotica della comunicazione non convenzionale, by Paolo Peverini, out in a new edition for LUISS University Press in March 2017.
«To promote the market entry of the Grün (green) sports clothing line, a large-scale intertextual and cross-media advertising campaign focused on the theme of environmental protection was developed. To grab a strategic young target in a successful business strategy, Adidas developed a complex story both from a narrative and figurative point of view, adopting an unconventional, direct and radical style of speech. The advertising campaign, to obtain maximum confidence with its youth audience, extolled the reasons, goals and methods of a widespread environmental movement: guerrilla gardening (Reynolds 2008).

The term “guerrilla gardening” is commonly used to indicate gardening activities that have a strongly political connotation. The term first appeared in 1973 when Liz Christy and the Green Guerrillas transformed a private abandoned area in the Bowery Houston district of ​​New York into a garden. Groups that promote the ecological redefinition of urban territory are, in most cases, made up of environmentalists who select the area to “colonize” it with greenery from the view of having the right to occupy and exploit the land. As to how this form of militant gardening it carried out, some groups want minimum visibility and work secretly at night, their compositions grabbing the attention of citizens and the mass media unexpectedly. Other groups work on degraded urban areas during the day, taking advantage of the contact with the neighborhood residents who become involved in carrying out the projects.

The capacity to develop urban spaces and dramatically modify their form and functions, and the ability to radically and unpredictably shake up how public spaces are used, transform guerilla gardening and its protagonists into a practice that is often mythicized by the media. Green guerillas, degraded peripheries, the defense of natural heritage: a rich reservoir of figures and narratives is absorbed by brand talk and is replicated in communication campaigns where marketing logic overlaps with ecological activism, often generating controversial reactions. In particular, consumer protection movements and ecological organizations are bringing more and more frequent allegations of greenwashing against a growing number of companies and multinational corporations, accusing them of boasting of their commitment to environmental sustainability without actually improving their policies on environmental impact.

The Adidas communication campaign unfolds from a set of texts that are different in terms of format and language but that have a strongly cohesive message aimed at emphasizing the positivity of the values related to brand identity. Simple press announcements give way to an original magazine, and gadgets distributed at the clothing line launch are highly unusual: recycled paper bags containing seeds and information to transform the consumer into an urban green guerilla. Stores are transformed into sets – spaces where the story of guerrilla gardening coexists with the presentation of clothes and accessories. Sweatshirts, sweat suits and shoes are arranged on a green surface, and a patch of artificial lawn is used as a stage for the euphoric tale of balance between nature and culture, respect for the environment and technological innovation.

The connection between the brand’s semiotics and social discourse on respect for the environment comes from clothing products and their portrayal in unconventional advertising texts. To present the innovative features of the Grün sports line, Adidas created a special insert in the Rolling Stone magazine. The insert – entitled The Green Soul – is not your trivial advertising space in a periodical, but is instead a micro magazine that commemorates the self-representation of youth culture and is one of the prime examples of the forms in which it materializes: underground fanzines. This publication is a textual place where the company’s larger narrative takes shape, the strategic space where the innovative values of the products on a technological level meld with the theme of environmental protection.