As integrated communications professionals, we know words matter. What you say, matters.
But Adidas has recently shown the world that often what you don’t say matters even more.
Recent antisemitic “outbursts” by Kanye West, often referred to as Ye, have raised questions about how much organizations are willing to tolerate from a partner. Ye’s comments have been described as disgusting, deplorable and morally reprehensible. But despite Creative Artists Agency (CAA), JP Morgan Chase and Balenciaga all cutting ties with the rapper almost immediately, Adidas remained silent on the matter for weeks after his antisemitic rants began.
Ye tested the limits of his partnership with Adidas. He insisted that he can make antisemitic comments, but Adidas can’t – or won’t – drop him. That’s probably because Adidas is home to Yeezy sneakers, which make up approximately 10 percent of the German shoemaker’s sales. And the partnership goes through 2026.
While Twitter audiences called on the general public to #boycottadidas, the world watched and waited for Adidas to speak up.
After days of silence, Adidas issued its formal termination announcement via press release on October 25. The brand shared the statement on LinkedIn but has failed (to date) to denounce or even acknowledge Ye’s statements in other channels – specifically Twitter, where a huge percentage of dialogue is happening.
What does this teach us?
Saying Something > Saying Nothing
Adidas’ silence was and continues to be deafening. While Ye’s comments are disgusting, deplorable and morally reprehensible, the public was left to its own assumptions due to Adidas’ silence. That speaks volumes for Adidas’ values, which have been questionable in the past.
Timing is Everything
Not only should you speak up, but you should do so quickly. Today’s media environment requires decisions faster than ever. In this case, the general public has already gathered the information via social media and come to their own conclusion. Adidas wasn’t even a part of the conversation – and that’s a missed opportunity that’s going to hurt the organization down the line.
By waiting, it looked like Adidas was responding to public pressure rather than taking a stand based on its own values – a theme that immediately emerged on Twitter.
“Congratulations Adidas on finally doing the bare minimum,” quipped Molly Jong-Fast, who has more than 1 million followers on Twitter.
Your Spokesperson is a Representative of Your Brand. Period.
Ye is making antisemitic comments. Adidas, by affiliation alone, will now be seen as tolerant of antisemitism. And that is unacceptable.
In the coming days, we’ll await to see how Adidas manages reactions to their public response. But in the meantime, silence still speaks volumes.
Now what, Adidas?