#Sambagate and the art of nimble brand comms

Last week the cries could be heard across WhatsApp groups everywhere as 1000’s of the so-called ‘Samba Community’ considered if they’d need to bin their beloved trainers. 

In an official Instagram post, the Prime Minister opted to don a pair of box-fresh Adidas Sambas as he looked to promote his new tax policies.

As a self-confessed Samba girl myself, I have to say I wasn’t best pleased with the news that my favourite versatile trainer had been co-opted by a middle-aged politician.

And I’m not alone.

Was this a transparent ploy to widen the PMs appeal with younger audiences? An attempt to bring a more informal and ‘hip’ vibe to the staged shots? Was the Samba assumed to have more appeal with voters than the politician himself?

Whatever the motive, the one with the most to lose when politicians play with products is usually the brand.

The Samba is by no means a new shoe having been released back in 1949 with the purpose of allowing footballers to train on icy, hard ground.

But the past year has seen the Samba rise to ubiquity with reimagined designs and collaborations feeding the fashion crowd’s need for sporty nostalgia. From red, to silver to leopard print, you can’t catch a bus, get on a train or watch a TikTok ‘get ready with me’ without seeing a flash of the iconic 3 stripes.

And whilst Adidas has recently doubled down on the trainer’s popularity with a new advertising push for its ‘Originals’ ranges, Samba-gate goes to show that no matter how much you prepare for a campaign, you can’t control every factor. In this case, there’s little forward planning you can do to mitigate the fallout from a PR shot of the PM that immediately derails the ‘cool’ brand image you’ve spent so long curating.

The real question is: how do you respond?


The speed of cultural conversations like these is astronomic and if you can’t be quick in your comms then you risk losing control of the narrative altogether.

Increasingly, brands are shedding their pristine and highly-curated images to invoke a more human and authentic appeal for citizens in the hope of winning their trust. But this requires a healthy dose of self-awareness and humour along with the courage to have that open dialogue.

Take a look at Berlin beer brand BRLO. It capitalised on the viral Calvin Klein ad of Jeremy Allen White earlier this year, creating a spoof version to promote its alcohol free beer. In response to the suggestive Calvin ad, BRLO’s creative featured a fuller-bodied, red-haired man stripping down to his tighty whiteys. On X, the brand wrote: “Full-bodied, juicy and without the headache the morning after, it’s the perfect choice – not just in Dry January.”

BRLO’s ability to be agile and respond to the trending conversations is what earned them, and their product cut through beyond its size.  

Whilst these tactics are often seen as more guerilla and for the scrappier scale-up and start-up players, adapting to what’s going on around you can have a payoff for even the biggest brands.

Exercise giant Peloton is one of the best examples of this, winning Christmas 2021 by turning around a commercial in less than 24 hours in response to a plotline in ‘And Just Like That…’, the Sex and the City reboot. Following a sudden character death after using one of the brand’s exercise bikes, Peloton’s stocks began to plummet, and so it took the narrative into its own hands. Enlisting the help of the shows ‘dead’ character, a voiceover from Ryan Reynolds, and a tongue in cheek script, the brand poked fun at the storyline letting everyone know “he’s alive” whilst reassuring customers of the health benefits of using their products.

Brands often don’t need to go that far to play into the conversation. Even Rishi has shown he doesn’t have too take himself to seriously, issuing his ‘fulsome apology to the Samba community.

And whilst Adidas has yet to weigh in on the debate, if they change their mind, I definitely have some ideas.  Particularly as in better news for me (and half of the Samba-sporting Headland office), all is not lost for this wardrobe staple.  I’d usually disagree with the saying that there’s no such thing as bad PR but according to Instagram account @databutmakeitfashion Samba popularity increased 60% in the past week.

I won’t set fire to mine just yet.

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