Why #321 represents athletic inclusivity for Adidas and FCB

Who: Adidas, with FCB Canada, Suneeva for production (directed by Jason Van Bruggen), School Editing, Alter Ego and OSO for post-production.

What: “Runner 321,” a new campaign calling on marathons to hold bib #321 for runners with Down syndrome and other neurodivergent athletes. The program is launching with an ad featuring Adidas-sponsored athlete Chris Nikic—the first person with Down syndrome to complete a triathlon—who will wear the bib number when running in the April 18 Boston Marathon.

When & Where: The campaign began March 21, which is World Down Syndrome Day, and is being promoted through social video and PR.

Why: There are two overlapping and complementary objectives here: Adidas wants to make sport and athletics more inclusive and representative, while advocates for the Down syndrome community want to increase inclusion and challenge misconceptions about people living with Down syndrome.

The latter has been an important focus at FCB as the creative agency for the Canadian Down Syndrome Society. Last year, as part of that work, it launched “Mindsets” a study and awareness campaign about how physical exercise can improve cognitive function for people with Down syndrome. Through that project, FCB learned about Nikic and came up with an idea they took to Adidas.

“[We] recognized an opportunity to bring Chris to Adidas as a sponsorship opportunity,” said executive creative director Andrew MacPhee. “Our first project with Adidas was to facilitate and help create the first global sports sponsorship of a neurodivergent athlete.”

From there, FCB has worked on a number of other projects for Adidas, including Runner 321. “We are also working on a third initiative—the original idea we pitched to Adidas which we cannot talk about at this time,” said MacPhee.

How: The centrepiece of the campaign is a 90-second anthemic spot called “Rebellious Optimists,” in which Nikic explains why he’s running the Boston Marathon and introduces the idea that every marathon should have a runner 321. “We recognized that inclusion in sport requires role models to show others what’s possible,” said MacPhee. The goal, starting with the Boston Marathon, is to have one of those role models in every marathon to show it is possible.

The video opens with a sombre and dark tone as Nikic reflects on his childhood and explains that he rarely saw anyone who looked like him in mainstream sports. “And now, we’re changing that,” he says, as the spot flips to an upbeat call to action with the pulsing music and driving beat of a performance sports ad.

“Running changed my life, but now I want everyone like me to see it’s possible for them too,” says Nikic. “This time I’m runner 321. Next time I want it to be you.”

“It was very important to Adidas and to FCB that we maintain Adidas’ rebellious optimistic tone of voice,” said MacPhee. “We were conscious of not creating a sense of otherness in the way we portrayed Chris. The work needed to showcase Chris with the same respect and stature as any other Adidas sponsored athlete.”

Why 321? The ad briefly explains the significance of 321, and ends with a push to Runner321.com, a section of the main Adidas site that provides a more in-depth explanation: “95% of people with Down syndrome have trisomy 21—a full copy of chromosome 21, leading to three copies instead of two. This number is iconic to the Down syndrome community and the reason why we celebrate World Down Syndrome Day on 03/21.”

And we quote: “Adidas has been an ideal partner on these projects as they share our vision of inclusivity, and the work really lives into adidas’ ‘Impossible is Nothing’ platform. While we came up with the bib initiative, we have worked together to create the partnerships to bring it to life, from Chris Nikic to the Boston Marathon.” — Andrew MacPhee, executive creative director, FCB Canada

David Brown