By: Jonathan Schultz

When Bulls all-star and point-guard phenom Derrick Rose dropped to the floor in the first round of the 2012 playoffs against newfound rival Philadelphia 76ers, on pace for another showdown against newfound-rival and publicly-decided villain of the NBA, LeBron James’s Miami Heat, the city of Chicago virtually stopped. People stared at the TVs in their homes and in the bars with nothing to say. The United Center was aghast as their hero lay on the floor, clutching his knee in what was to be diagnosed as a season-ending ACL tear to require almost a year of rehabilitation. All seemed lost for the Windy City and its hailed south-sider, who had put the team on his back and brought them to near-championship status.

Usually when an athletic clothing company’s biggest sponsor is made completely unable to play, people get fired, profits plummet, and the company is forced to hunt for the next best choice. Instead, “Adidas and Derrick Rose have managed to turn that scenario on its head” (Laird, 2012).

Ryan Morlan, director of basketball marketing for the company, and his team managed to turn this crisis into one of the most successful and viral social media campaigns of all time. The heart and soul of the campaign is based around serialized, mini-documentary videos on YouTube that feature “a mix of candid interviews, grinding rehab footage and dramatic music” (Laird, 2012). The videos all feature the hashtag #TheReturn, which trends considerably on Twitter and Instagram after a new video in the series is released. Sam Laird of Mashable, one the most popular social media blogs on the Web, spoke with Morlan to discuss what has made the online marketing campaign so effective.


“It’s a pretty smart digital marketing play by Adidas. Instead of Rose temporarily vanishing from the public eye aside from bland injury updates and PR appearances, he remains very much in fans’ minds as a player and reinforces his humble and likable reputation. YouTube’s platform for short videos, meanwhile, lets Adidas tell his story in brief installments and maintain buzz.”

The first episode of the series has received over 1.5 million views on YouTube to date, and the other videos in the series have achieved similar success. Morlan says that while it would have been simple enough to just run the spots as a traditional TV campaign, “a social media emphasis was an easy choice for “The Return” campaign, given how much both player and brand wanted to make sure Rose’s fans felt connected. The YouTube platform and serialized mini-doc format provided a perfect opportunity to give fans access to footage not seen anywhere else and break the story into digital-sized chunks (Laird, 2012).

The genius of the campaign, and what has ultimately made it such a success in terms of a social media marketing campaign, is that it creates an immersive experience in which the audience gets an inside look at one of their stars, and then gets to continue the conversation on an international level by using the hashtag in various social media outlets and have their tweets and photos featured at the end of new videos.

The campaign focused on #TheReturn will continue to make money for Adidas even after Rose as arrived back on the court. “When Chicago Bulls guard Derrick Rose returns to the court this season after last year’s season-ending knee injury, he’ll be wearing the newly-released D Rose 3, the Adidas-designed shoe that starts at $160,” said TIME Magazine’s style writer Feifei Sun. The company has been aggressively pairing the new shoe-brand with the campaign.

This may very well be the social media marketing style of the future, but whatever may come of this new campaign, it has certainly transformed both a sports clothing company and future hall-of-famer into true superstars.


Laird, Sam. “How Derrick Rose and Adidas Turned Misfortune Into Great Marketing” Mashable. Sep. 21, 2012. great-marketing-video/

Laird, Sam. “Inside Adidas and Derrick Rose’s Digital ‘Return’” Mashable. Sep. 28, 2012.

Sun, Feifei. “Adidas Jumps to Make NBA Star Derrick Rose a Brand” TIME. Oct. 25, 2012.

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Written by Ad Buzz

The American Advertising Federation Illinois Chapter brings to you Ad Buzz, a blog dedicated to all things advertising related, from our favorite campaigns to trends going on in the industry.

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