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Not just for Kicks, Sneaker Culture & Lessons for Marketers

Two days before the launch you will see a little home page banner announcing the launch and that’s it. Of course it helps that the shoe in question is from the cult Yeezy range and really sells itself out before Launch.

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Picture this, right through the lockdown Adidas India has been quietly dropping shoes on their website in the price range of Rs 22k plus and they all get sold out in a matter of minutes. If you are one of the many hopefuls like me trying to snag a pair, forget about it. By the time you will be able to get to the page it will be all sold out. All these releases and have no advertising, no promotions and certainly no big noise around.

Two days before the launch you will see a little home page banner announcing the launch and that’s it. Of course it helps that the shoe in question is from the cult Yeezy range and really sells itself out before Launch. This is the power of the sneaker culture revolution and India although a very small market is no exception to the craze. 

While there are a lots of interesting stories about the evolution of sneaker culture and fascinating history dating back more than 100 years for the context of this piece, here’s a quick relevant summary. Sneaker culture as we know it now really evolved in the early 80s in the US and two factors that contributed massively to its growth was the emergence of a young superstar on the basketball courts called Michael Jordan & the emergence of Hip Hop music. Nike &  Adidas pounced on these trends and have forever rewritten the rules of marketing. Let’s dive into some key tactics used by sneaker brands to create this culture that became part of the social fabric and continues from one generation to another. 

1. The scarcity model: the air Jordan brand from Nike & the Yeezy brand from Adidas thrives on this and today we have examples of $Billion brands like Supreme that have been built on the scarcity model. Simply put it’s a strategy, which the sneaker brands have perfected where you purposely release less pairs than the market demand. This creates a scarcity for the product and the demand for it skyrockets.

Once demand is high, consumers will go out to get a coveted pair. This in turn shoots up the price of the sneakers in the resale market and the cycle keeps continuing. It’s like a small snowball gathering steam while rolling downhill and forming an avalanche. All of this gets word of mouth doing and before you know, we are waiting for the next release with baited breath. 

2.  Celebrities as Co- Creators: it’s one thing to have celebrities as brand ambassadors but a totally different ball game to have them as co-creators. Figure this out, Nike signed a 19 year old rookie Michael Jordan and launched a new line of sneakers under the brand name Air Jordan’s. Till a few years back Air Jordan was bigger than Adidas in the US. Adidas much later on signed up with Kanye West and his brand Yeezy. Kanye went on from being millions of dollars int debt 5 years ago to a $5billion net worth last week. And these two are not exceptions, be it the 70s tennis star Stan Smith to musician Pharell Williams to celebrity designer Virgil Abloh they all have their own line of sneakers. This approach has helped sneaker brands build long lasting value with their partnerships with celebrities rather than an association for a few campaigns. 

3. Influencer marketing:  sneaker brands have been using influencers to promote their products much before the term influencer marketing was even coined. Be it a Rihanna music video, Kylie Jenner Instagram post or an actual full-blown musical tour with Run DMC in the 80s, sneaker brands have perfected the art of influencer marketing. The Adidas Superstar brand of sneakers was born due to the Run DMC association and went on to become the largest selling sneaker line in history. The Converse All Star range is a tribute to its association with a range of basketball stars in the 70s & 80s. 

4. Use of tech: From virtual stores to exclusive all access apps to supporting the sneaker tech ecosystem, these brands have been at the forefront of using technology as a marketing enabler. The sneaker industry also has a very thriving reseller ecosystem that is primarily being driven by tech platforms. Fathom this; StockX is a $2bn company that runs a virtual stock market for sneakers. They claim to be reaching $1bn in sales this year. Remember the scarcity principle we spoke about in the beginning, StockX’s entire business model is built around it and the shoe brands have recognized the power this brings to their brands and they have encourages these marketplaces. There is an entire bot industry that thrives on helping customers jump the queue and bag their coveted price. Brands also now have their own apps that give you access to some rare drops. The way sneaker brands look at tech is that of a great unifier: the customers. tThe brand, customers, the brand, the ecosystem all become one.

5. UGC: Sneaker brands are outstanding when it comes to user generated content. Be it fan art, customization of sneakers, sneaker art, fan dedications, unboxing videos, reviews, cheat guides, you name them and you will find enough user generated content across platforms like Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Tik Tok the works. Add to that all the Hypebeast blogs and all the content that ecommerce platforms for sneakers keep uploading it s an entire universe on its own. If you need only one thing to analyze how deeply rooted the sneaker culture phenomenon is, all you need to do is look at the amount of UGC around you. Its mindboggling that people spend so much time and energy in creating this content on their own.

There are lots of others things that sneaker brands do very well especially the use of social media. But we have seen over the years brands across categories have aced this. For now I leave all you smart marketers with the above five tactics, I’m sure there are many more fascinating aspects of sneaker marketing we can discuss, but that’s all for now, as my attention is diverted to an all new low bid on StockX. It’s for a sneaker I’ve wanted to snag for sometime now.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Atul Hegde

Co-founder of Rainmaker Ventures

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