“Until we look cool to an American kid,” Mark King, the new North America head of Adidas, recently told Fortune, “we aren’t going to sell any gear to them.”
King was discussing the plan to turn things around for the American sneaker and sportswear brand, which continues to see its brand share slide in the US. Part of that plan entails targeting “influencer cities” in the US, in theory allowing the cool emanating from Adidas-wearers in those locales to infect the deeper reaches of America.
King surely knows his business, but the plan does seem to leave out a large demographic that cares much less about coolness than that American kid: his parents. That dad or mom, running on the weekends, going to yoga or for a stroll with friends, is wearing comfortable, functional sneakers for everyday life and errands. With the spread of athleisure—a laid-back attitude that has become a full-fledged lifestyle at this point, rather than just an apparel trend—has come the spread of comfy sneakers.
Others are paying attention to this demographic. Take Skechers, a brand known for casual lifestyle shoes. It certainly doesn’t boast the cool factor of Adidas, but it just overtook Adidas as the number two sports footwear company in the US, according to figures from research firm NPD Group. Last quarter, Skechers owned 5% of the market, compared to Adidas’s 4.6%. (Both trail far behind Nike’s 62%.)
The cross-training market offers a good illustration, as NPD’s sportswear analyst Matt Powell pointed out in a recent post on Forbes. Cross-trainers are basically an all-purpose athletic shoe, perfect for casual athletes as they’re not engineered for the rigors of any particular sport. Skechers has dominated the category recently, as have some other companies’ not-so-cool models, such as the dad-friendly Nike Air Monarch IV. “Most have never heard of the shoe but when I post a picture of it, the response is always, ‘Oh yeah—my uncle has a pair of those…’” Powell writes. The shoe is actually one of Nike’s top sellers.
In the urban areas Adidas is targeting, and especially among fashion’s biggest influencers, Adidas is already cool. It still has a whiff of street credibility from its appearances in rap lyrics (video) in the 1980s, and has more recently mounted highly visible, highly cool sneaker collaborations with designers including Raf Simons, Rick Owens, and Jeremy Scott. It has a full line of sneakers and apparel in collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto, called Y3, and another with rapper Kanye West. When the brand resurrected the Stan Smith, it quickly became fashion’s favorite sneaker.
But none of this is helping much. The audience for Adidas is cool, but it’s also a fairly small niche.
Cool isn’t the only trick Adidas has up its sleeve. The company understands the importance of sports in sneaker marketing, as evidenced by the efforts it’s making to sponsor more athletes in professional football and baseball.
“Our strategy is based on sports,” a representative for the company tells Quartz. “Within our new strategy, there will be no doubt about what we stand for: sports and performance.”
That’s good, because cool is overrated.