How Nike Air Jordans, Adidas Yeezys, And Supreme Are Going To Change Your Business Strategies In 2019
Posted on February 26th, 2019
3 min read
I didn’t really get “sneakerhead” culture or its closely related cousin, “streetwear” culture, until I saw a picture of former President Obama looking suave in a Rag and Bone bomber jacket, with the number 44 stitched on it.  

My first thought upon seeing that picture: “I want that jacket.”

Unfortunately for me, Obama’s signature jacket, a gift from Jerry Seinfeld, is one of a kind. I could buy a generic version of the jacket, without the “44” embroidery, for $595 from Rag and Bone’s website.

But let’s say Rag and Bone decides to release millions of copies of Obama’s signature “44” jacket, and sell it at a more accessible price point. In that scenario, I can imagine everyone buying it—and I can also imagine that I won’t want it anymore.

That’s “sneakerhead” culture!

How Nike and Michael Jordan Launched the Sneakerhead Subculture
In 1985, Nike collaborated with Michael Jordan on a basketball shoe, which they named the Air Jordan I. This was the first and only pair of Jordans to include Nike’s signature “Swoosh” logo.  

The sports legend famously wore his new sneakers at that year’s NBA Slam Dunk Contest, where millions of viewers watching from home saw them for the first time.

Suddenly, teenage boys all over America wanted a pair of Jordans. But they weren’t cheap. The original Air Jordans cost $65 in 1985, which was the equivalent of about $153 in today’s money. Sure, $153 isn’t much if you’re a Wall Street investment banker, but it is more than most parents are willing to spend on a pair of sneakers for their kids.

The price of Jordans continued to increase as new models were released. Not only were newer models getting more expensive; the demand for older, discontinued Jordans also grew, which exploded the resale value of those sneakers.

Imagine being a young Chicago Bulls fan in the mid 80s or early 90s. Michael Jordan was already a legend, and probably your personal hero. And if you bought his shoes, you could be a little bit more like Mike!

Now imagine having parents who refuse to buy you a pair of Jordans. Maybe they can’t afford them, or if they can, they think they’re a waste of money. Now you want them even more.

Perhaps you’ll get a part time job and save up for some Jordans yourself. Otherwise, you might impatiently wait for the day when you’re a working adult with enough disposable income to buy as many Jordans as you want.

A lot of kids grew up and did just that.  

Take Michael Denzel Smith, a New York Times best selling author and writer for The Nation. Before achieving mainstream success as a writer, he mostly wore Converse Chuck Taylors, which are cool in a grungy sort of way, but certainly not a luxury symbol. (Side note: Like Air Jordan, the Converse brand is a Nike subsidiary.) By his own admission, Smith couldn’t afford to indulge his interest in Jordans until relatively recently.

But now that he has the requisite disposable income, his collection of Jordans barely fits in his bedroom.

The Main Takeaway From Air Jordan's Success
Given the history of Air Jordans, it’s not so difficult to see why they became an enduring cultural phenomenon.

With the help of America’s most beloved professional athlete, Nike positioned Jordan sneakers as the ultimate status symbol for boys and young men. The strength of Jordans as a status symbol was only enhanced by how difficult it was for the average teenage boy to get his hands on a pair.

We humans tend to be more appreciative of things when we have to work hard for them. So it follows that if you run a company that sells a premium product, making your customers work a bit harder for that product can inspire a lifelong devotion to your brand.

Yeezy and Supreme: Jordans on Steroids
What would happen if you took that basic lesson from the Jordan brand’s success, and applied it in an even more extreme manner?  

Two non-Nike companies, Adidas and Supreme, have answered that question.

Let’s start with the Yeezy sneaker line from Adidas. Yeezy, as many of you know, is Adidas’ famous sneaker collaboration with rapper Kanye West. (Unlike Air Jordan, Yeezy is not a separate brand from its parent company.)

In 2015, Adidas and West launched their new line of sneakers by releasing 9,000 pairs of the Yeezy Boost 750, which could only be purchased via Adidas’ mobile app. The sneakers were $350, more expensive than a typical pair of Jordans. They sold out in 10 minutes, and Yeezys quickly became synonymous with everything cool and premium.

Well before the launch of Yeezys, the streetwear brand Supreme proved that extreme scarcity tactics work even without celebrity endorsements. Their idea was to be an exclusive, non-mainstream clothing brand that didn’t rely on flashy endorsements or loud advertising. In other words, a hipster version of Air Jordan.
Supreme refers to their product launches as “drops,” when they release new, unusually expensive items, most of which contain the Supreme logo. These items can range from a $150 hooded sweatshirt, to a $1500 leather jacket, to a literal $30 red brick. These items go out of stock fast, and once that happens, they’re never released again.

On the Netflix series, Patriot Act, host Hasan Minhaj notes that Supreme intentionally makes it a hassle for people to get their hands on their products, often forcing customers to wait in long lines outside retail stores to obtain items that could sell out forever before they even reach the front of the line. This strategy has generated an insane level of demand for Supreme’s products. The company is now worth a billion dollars.
Are Jordan, Yeezy, and Supreme Still Cool? 
The more famous and mainstream Supreme becomes, the more people make fun of it. That’s pretty understandable. Even if you personally think a $30 brick with the Supreme logo is cool, you have to admit that someone is going to find this ridiculous.

Mocked or not, Supreme is still valued at a billion dollars, and the company has attracted funding from some of the world’s wealthiest investors. But a sneaker expert on Patriot Act predicts that these new investors will expand the company’s production too quickly, destroying the rarity of its products. And if Supreme products are no longer rare, fewer people will want them. (Kind of like me and the Obama jacket.)  

As for Yeezy, the line’s cool factor seemed to decline once Adidas decreased their price and began mass production. They seem to be viewed the same way other Adidas fashion sneakers are viewed: they’re perfectly nice sneakers, but they’re not the statement sneakers they used to be.

Finally, it seems that Nike would have to colossally screw up in order to destroy the value of the Jordan brand. It’s true that Nike recently increased production of Jordans (including reissues of retro models), and that easy access to Jordans has led to a decrease in sales, in addition to a decline in the resale value of genuine retro Jordans. Obviously, flooding the market was a mistake on Nike’s part. But Jordans are still a major cultural icon, and a seemingly permanent fixture of hip hop culture.  

Air Jordan still sells enough to be considered one of the top three sneaker brands in the US. (With Adidas being #2, and Nike being #1. Remember, Yeezy isn’t its own brand.) So even while Jordans aren’t as rare and exclusive as they used to be, the brand has managed to survive.

While early exclusivity was a major factor in Jordan’s success, that’s not all they have going for them. The brand’s three-decade association with Michael Jordan, plus a customer base with nostalgic feelings about their product, gives it far more substance than Supreme or Yeezy. Those products’ biggest selling point is rarity, and that’s just not enough.

Exclusivity: A Useful Tactic in an Otherwise Multifaceted Marketing Strategy
There’s one other important element that sets Jordans apart from Supreme and Yeezy products: branding and advertising aside, they look distinctive.  

If you take away Supreme’s branding, all you’re left with is an overpriced hoodie or a simple red brick. Take away Yeezy’s branding, and it’s hard to see why Yeezy sneakers should be in a separate category from the rest of Adidas’ Originals collection.

Jordans, on the other hand, have an interesting aesthetic that sets them apart from other Nike shoes, and they also happen to be athletic shoes that perform well. 

And Rag and Bone, the brand that made Obama’s signature bomber jacket, is a premium fashion company that’s successful because its products look and fit great, not because they have a cool logo, celebrity endorsements, or flashy marketing tactics. Yes, their products are expensive, but Rag and Bone customers feel that they are paying for quality, not rarity or a status symbol.

If you’re a business owner, intentionally making your product rare and exclusive can be a good tactic, depending on what you sell. But exclusivity alone will only generate temporary success at best. Whatever you’re selling, it needs to be able to stand on its own merits.  

Once you have something exceptional to offer, and you’ve found ways to let your target market know how it can benefit them, that’s when you can start thinking about tactics that could further enhance the excitement your product is capable of generating.

Here at I Want Digital Marketing, we love helping small business owners use cutting edge marketing strategies to promote already amazing products and services. If you have something great that you want everyone to know about, we can help you spread the word.

With our 6 Pillar Digital Marketing Strategy System, we can promote your business like Air Jordan, or any other company whose strategies would be a good fit for you. Get in touch with us by requesting a FREE digital marketing audit, and we’ll kick things off by sending you a list of strategies you can use to help grow your business. We’ll even include a FREE logo design to help with your branding, as part of our brand new promotion!
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