That's why it was so unprecedented when Adidas marketing executive Angelo Anastasio came to Madison Square Garden and was wowed enough by what he saw to strike the endorsement deal for the trio of rappers. As it was pointed out to me by Lyor Cohen (there that night as Run-DMC's road manager), the mainstream market appeal wasn’t the main selling point for Anastasio. The crowd that night was still mostly African-American, with a smaller percentage of Hispanic and Asian concertgoers and a sprinkling of white urban kids. But what made Anastasio different from other corporate representatives, according to Lyor, was his curiosity. He was simply open-minded enough to contemplate the possibilities of introducing hip-hop to the marketing machinery behind Adidas sneakers.
When Lyor described that night and how everything fell into place, it occurred to me how important curiosity is in general for tanning to occur. And as a marketing 101 lesson, one that I had to learn and one I have to remind corporate clients not to forget, advertising dollars don’t mean a thing without genuine curiosity about what consumers want and need. In fact, as Lyor recalled, while the Adidas/Run-DMC alliance did well for all concerned—saving the company from extinction—it could have been much more successful. Unfortunately, instead of gaining consumer insights and bringing Run, DMC, or Jam Master Jay in on designing the footwear and in on how to promote their line of sneakers, the company took over for Angelo and ran a campaign with the old-school "father knows best" approach. They let the designers try to figure out the culture and design into it without a true understanding of the consumer. They marketed via the monologue that dictates cool rather than inviting consumers to partake in the cool. That said, the Adidas missteps were going to be lessons learned for certain entrepreneurs who were paying attention and whose business wheels were starting to turn. For them, it was fortunate that there were mainstream corporate haters who even by the late 1980s weren’t curious enough to even consider hip-hop's musical future. Why do I say that it was fortunate for these entrepreneurs? Because it allowed them and local economies to benefit and prime the pump for everyone else to follow suit.