Why #NoMoreRed delivered for Arsenal and adidas

Thirty teenagers became homicide victims in London in 2021. All but three were stabbed. Knife crime is one of London and England’s great tragedies, underpinning the heartbreaking over-representation of teenagers among the capital’s homicide victims.

According to Metropolitan Police data from 2019, suspects proceeded against for knife crime offences in the preceding decade were overwhelmingly male. Whether we focus on perpetrators or victims, and whether or not we delve into the socioeconomic and racial demographics at play, we know that knife crime affects young men in London.

While it’s easy to be cynical about brands and their intentions, adidas gets young men in London. Understanding the cultural trends and connecting with the real influencers in the world’s cultural hubs has been a core element of the adidas strategy for some time and London is at the top of the list.

Football as a structural entity is struggling to get to grips with its next generation of fans, who are subverting the very nature of football fandom and finding in it a different meaning to those of us who came before. Yet the game remains popular with teenagers, and adidas knows the intricacies of their involvement better than any other global brand.

Thus, football has a role in tackling knife crime. In London, that means Arsenal has a role, which means adidas has a role. By working together with Iris Worldwide to create #NoMoreRed, the club and its technical partner stood up to be counted.

The campaign removed the famous red from the Gunners’ home shirt. The hero video featuring actor Idris Elba, Arsenal legend Ian Wright and current players Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe – young Londoners both – explained the concept in plain, brutal language. The team played Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup in an all-white strip and the message spread far and fast.

Arsenal wouldn’t play in red at Forest anyway but that’s beside the point. Another caveat is more pertinent: social marketing campaigns are measured on behaviour change and we will never know the effectiveness of #NoMoreRed because its stated goal is so vast and complex.

To put it another way, #NoMoreRed is brash and bold and all the better for it. Arsenal and adidas didn’t let the impossibility of its aim stop them doing the right thing by raising awareness and backing it with real action.

Being a football supporter, a marketer and an unashamed lover of adidas (a client, once upon a time), my first reaction to the hero video when Arsenal shared it on Twitter was obviously positive. It’s an impressive piece of work that captured the public imagination.

But I also wanted to spend some time thinking about what makes it great, and what makes it sticky and shareable and – on that basis at least – successful.

It’s a great idea

#NoMoreRed hinges on a basic truth: Arsenal Football Club is located in a city that adidas knows well, and which has (like others) a devastating problem. Arsenal are associated with the colour red and are committed to standing up against that problem. It’s one of those ideas that seems obvious when you see it, so often the hallmark of creative excellence.

The campaign’s central concept is simplicity itself. It can be explained in a few words and understood immediately. With no further explanation required, brilliant ideas are passed on with ease. Arsenal have 18.5 million followers on Twitter alone; the onward transmission of a simple idea is all but guaranteed.

It has weight

But even with all the followers at adidas and Arsenal’s disposal, the core idea needs substance to catch on within and beyond the social media Goonersphere. Emotion remains the great driver of social virality. The #NoMoreRed idea and the superb hero video content lend the campaign a significant emotional impact.

The club’s campaign has also absorbed credibility from its partners. adidas is a perfect headline collaboration but it’s the relationship with charity partners including Don’t Stab Your Future, Steel Warriors and the Ben Kinsella Trust that really anchors #NoMoreRed in the very real and tragically growing anti-knife crime movement.

It’s news

Despite the ongoing work of these charities and more, knife crime in London is a frequent feature of local, regional and national news. By launching it in January, Arsenal and adidas tied #NoMoreRed to fresh reporting of London’s annual knife crime death statistics, made all the more horrifying by two murders in late December that made 2021 a record-breaking year.

And, while these crimes occur also elsewhere, knife killings in the capital city are London’s to own, to mourn, to tackle. This is a London story and London, wisely, was kept as the sole focus for the #NoMoreRed campaign. It’s simple, it’s focused and it’s an important but easy story to communicate.

It’s crystal clear

From the simplest of ideas flows the clearest of messages. #NoMoreRed is easy to explain and understand, uncomplicated as it is by extraneous information or unnecessary creative bolt-ons – the more that’s added, the more that’s taken away. The result is one message communicated in a straightforward manner, and therein lies its bite. Copywriters will have noted this right off the bat.

Furthermore, all-white football strips are striking. You know it. I know it. Don Revie knew it. But Arsenal in white is an unexpected visual spectacle that gave the message, the story and the moment all the talkability it needed as it roared out of the traps on the morning the hero video was launched. To put it bluntly: we wanted to see the shirt in action.

It’s built for fame

Wright is Arsenal royalty (and a national treasure, in my view) and Elba is similarly admired outside football. Star power is a shortcut to success when awareness is at stake and these two faces were the perfect fit. And, lest Elba be dismissed as just an actor doing a job, he was interviewed at the City Ground on matchday too.

Arsenal players Saka and Smith Rowe appeared as well, and there was additional content to deepen, amplify and humanise the message. Reiss Nelson, another young Londoner who is playing on loan from the Gunners in the Netherlands, spoke to Wright about his youth in a lean-back video that clocked in at well over six minutes.

They mean it

NoMoreRed packs genuine action on the part of both brand and club. They have committed to the creation and refurbishment of safe facilities, including “the funding to deliver at least one new pitch every year for the duration of the partnership between adidas and Arsenal” – maybe not a first-of-its-kind pledge, but entirely laudable and another necessary string to the redless bow.

That credibility is one of the most important reasons behind the sheer volume of coverage yielded by the campaign. It was picked up by the full range of titles: local, national, broadcast, major lifestyle blogs, kit sites and Arsenal outlets, plus sports and marketing industry media.

In my first full-time PR job, I had to make coverage boards. I wouldn’t have been able to fit this campaign on the side of a shipping container.

If that is but one measure of success, you can bet adidas and Arsenal are still picking through many others. Their campaign took a simple, meaningful and easily communicated idea, gave it gravitas and a powerful visual, sprinkled in a little celebrity, and blew up in all the right places.

Football, culture and social media mix easily but they make for explosive bedfellows. The residue attracts the feckless and parasitic. Yet every now and then something positive can still get traction, gain well-intentioned virality, drive a meaningful conversation. When it does, you know the work is worth talking about.

It might not miraculously reduce knife crime in London, but #NoMoreRed is worth talking about.