While the history of modern football is sprinkled with game changers that never really gathered steam – the Golden Goal, a World Cup in Qatar and Thierry Henry's punditry career – one brand has remained ever-committed to succesful innovation at the highest level of the game.
From the launch of the iconic Predator in 1994, through to the eye-opening laceless ACE 16 earlier this year, adidas Football has been at the front of driving the way players perform, connect and fall in love with the beautiful game – on and off the pitch. In the midst of what appears to be a boom period for the German giants, they're tearing up the rulebook again with the release of adidas GLITCH: a high-performance boot with interchangeable construction that's only available (for now) to an exclusive group of footballers in London.
GLITCH is a totally new approach from adidas Football. While the ACE and X remain adidas' headline products, GLITCH is inspired by tech startups that launch game-changing innovations to a narrow market – creating intense desirability from those on the sidelines – before rolling-out the product to wider markets when the time is right.
GLITCH offers the type of customisation not seen in a football boot since the ill-fated F50 Tunits from 2006. Unlike that release, which wanted players to screw in their own studs and offered more problems than solutions, GLITCH is incredibly simplistic. The boot is formed of an inner shoe and outer skin, which are interchangeable and slip into one another – it's as easy as changing the fascia of a Nokia 3310.
Also unique to GLITCH is the product's delivery (literally). The product is available only through a locked app, which you can only access via invite or recommendation. At launch, GLITCH will be worn by only 250 people in London – with a view to that number growing as the project rolls on. To obtain the boots, players place an order through the app and it's then delivered directly to them by an adidas courier service up to four hours later. It's really that easy.
To truly understand the ideation of GLITCH and how it has the potential to disrupt the football industry for years to come, we spoke with the general manager of adidas Football, Markus Baumann.
COMPLEX: This is such a different offering from any other boot on the market right now. Explain adidas GLITCH in just a few words.
Markus Baumann: This is on-demand football. It’s a new concept, which allows football consumers to change the product within seconds based on their style and the needs of their performance. We’re pretty excited about it.
The shoe consists of two parts, you have an outer layer and the base. You slide the base into the outer layer and the shoe is completed. It’s a high performance football shoe that’s open to customisation. You can change it within seconds.
How does GLITCH fit in with the wider revolution of adidas Football in the last couple of years? There’s always something happening with the Three Stripes…
We’ve started to reshape the way adidas Football operates since the beginning of last summer, when we really showed a new attitude to communications with our ‘Haters’ campaign. It pissed off a lot of people including clubs and federations – UEFA didn’t want to put the messages on stadium boards, but it was absolutely spot on for the consumer. It was one of the first campaigns to truly go viral on social media. From there, we revolutionised our entire football offering and wiped everything away. We brought ACE and X alive last year, and that was the start of us changing the way we operate. We want to take risks and that’s how GLITCH came along.
Right now, adidas is all about innovation and this is the sort of product that allows us to do things differently than we have before. We’re very inspired by ‘startup’ mentalities and on this project, we wanted to start small because our business success is not dependent on GLITCH – we’ve got huge momentum with our in-line products right now – so this presents a rare opportunity to be creative with our attitudes and ideas.
We chose to start with London – the most football relevant city on the planet – and not to put the product in our stores or our websites. Kids live in a digital world, so let’s make an app and an experience that lets people order the product only with the app. We also need people to experience the product, so there’s a program in place 5 days a week where players can get in touch with the product and play with it before they decide to buy it. We’ve never done that before.
Was this about more than just making a new product? It sounds like the whole project is about changing the way adidas can do business.
Absolutely. What about changing the delivery experience? We wanted to experiment with the idea of ‘football on demand’ – so we literally deliver this product. We’ve now set up a process where if you order the shoe, you’ll get it within four hours if you live within the M25 in London. That’s never been done before. We’ve got a different customer service in place and we interact with customers in a real-time way, which has never been done. Other departments here now want to know how all these innovations are working, because they see how our successes here can work in other areas.
So right now, GLITCH is only available to an exclusive group in London. When can others expect to get their hands on it?
There’s a roll-out vision on GLITCH, but there’s no fixed date for us to be in the next city. We want consumers to define that. We want to see which market has the most interest in GLITCH and move there. We’re defining that as we go. What we do in London will feed into how we scale this.
True to a startup mentality, we’re confident that if we handle this project in the right way – in a sustainable way – and the appetite from consumers is there, this is something that can grow organically in due time. We are the creative football brand and we want to make sure people know that.
There’s an obvious link here to the adidas F50 Tunits from a decade ago, which were the first boots I can remember to really offer customisation. Why is this the right time revisit the idea of expression in performance products?
I would say this is a better offering than Tunit. The idea of Tunit was fantastic but the execution was complicated – things had to be screwed in and it was a lot of manual work to make any changes to the boot. This is so much more simplified.
Retailers also weren’t really able to manage Tunit in a proper way, there were components flying around and it was too much to keep track of. No one could really explain how and why things worked. We’ve approached this differently and asked kids to test it and tell us what they really want. We came to them and interacted with them on an eye-level, instead of just putting something out and seeing what happens.
GLITCH is very obviously connected to the idea of adidas being the brand of choice for football ‘creators’. How important is individualism and expression in the modern game?
I believe that what we see from our in-line range, is that consumers are looking for the latest and greatest. This isn’t just in our industry, because looking at technology, things are constantly on the move and ten years ago, we might have done one colourway per season. Now, we’re doing a new colourway every eight weeks and the demand is still there. That’s why customisation is something that will resonate and the ideas we have in mind will allow us to go beyond predefined designs – we really think people can create their own upper and their own boots.
Conceivably, you're saying players will be able to design their own uppers for GLITCH?
Not in the first instance but this is definitely something we’ll be doing. We also felt, learning from the Tunit, we need to do it step-by-step because when we throw too many things at consumers they get lost. Look at the first iPhone, it had a limited amount of apps but it’s now developed step-by-step and it’s been very successful and bringing people along for that journey.
Have you had to make any compromises on performance to bring GLITCH to life?
No. The product was originally developed as a high-performance shoe for the in-line range but seeing it’s potential, we wanted to play around with it and take it to consumers first – which is why we’ve approached this like a start-up. We figured that if we made this a regular release, it might have a life cycle of 24 months but we wanted to make this so much more than that. With the app that goes with Glitch, we’ve created a platform, and once you’re logged on you have so many opportunities and with the ideas we have, it’ll keep people there. This will be here for five years, probably even more.
GLITCH will be available from November exclusively through the GLITCH app with a starter pack (two out skins and one inner shoe) priced at £249.95.