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Sneaky Sneaker Risk

The New York Times article on Adidas’s troubled relationship with Kanye West demonstrates the value of comprehensive research, interviews, and reviews of internal corporate records in telling the story of “what this company knew, when they knew it, and how they responded,” as described by the article’s author Megan Twohey. The article notes Adidas executives had knowledge of the risks of their relationship with Kanye for years, but repeatedly chose to prioritize improving sneaker sales over the collective impact of his escalating offenses and hateful statements. 

The story is a cautionary tale for all brands who tie their fortunes to influencers. It also raises an important question: Kanye’s individual provocations might have seemed manageable to Adidas in the moment, but would a decision by the company to commission an independent investigator to prepare a report like Twohey’s into the reputational risks of working with Kanye have provided them the clarity to change their calculations before the damage became so widespread? It’s a question to which Adidas might have liked an answer much earlier. 

A year ago, after producing hundreds of shoe styles and billions of dollars together, Adidas broke with Kanye West as he made antisemitic and other offensive public comments. But Adidas had been tolerating his misconduct behind the scenes for nearly a decade.