Is Sneaker Nostalgia the Real Brand Influencer?
Most people in the sneaker community will tell you any number of things move them to buy or collect shoes. Colorway, silhouette, comfort, and even on foot/influencer endorsements will be reasons most collectors or sneaker fans will give you for picking up a new collaboration or other release. However, the unmentioned motivator in sneaker purchasing is nostalgia.
Where do you start with Nike? Name a sport and Nike has an iconic shoe that is readily associated with one of the sports greats. Tennis? Agassi and the Nike Air Tech Challenge II in Hot Lava. Football? Bo Jackson and the Nike Air Trainer Max. The other football? Neymar and the Nike Air Mercurial. Track and Field? Michael Johnson and his gold track shoes at the Olympic games in 1996. Basketball? C’mon,…
Beyond traditional sports Nike has done much in the way of creating historic silhouettes that create clamor and fervor years after their initial release. Their Air Max series has been nothing short of revolutionary, with the original Air Max 1 still as popular today as it was when it dawned in 1987. Similarly, the Air Force 1 and SB Dunks have remained largely unaltered and still highly coveted by the sneaker community at large.
One of the genius moves of Nike was pairing up with sneaker stores and boutiques early on for collaborative releases. Nike’s pairing with shops like Atmos, Supreme, Staple, and Concepts for Air Max, and SB collaborations helped establish an almost psycho-fanatic following for their best-known models. Revisiting these connections awakens emotions and imagery from years past in many of the community’s most seasoned followers.
Nike’s market base consists largely of millennials. People raised before the total proliferation of the internet but with deep ties to it in their everyday lives. The “cable tv” generation can still remember the Mars Blackmon/Michael Jordan commercials and Tiger Woods saturation on Sportscenter’s Top Ten. Those images are more deeply ingrained and influential in buying habits for much of the millennial generation than any modern-day sneaker influencer may be.
Arguably the first sneaker brand to encapsulate a sport’s street style was Puma. The 1970’s ascension of Walt Frazier to the NBA greats throne came with the first partnering of an NBA player and a sneaker brand. Frazier’s flashy and funky off-court style earned him the nickname “Clyde” after the Warren Beatty portrayal of the infamous outlaw. Puma followed suit, naming his signature shoe similarly. The Clyde sneaker referenced Walt’s “colorful style” in promotions and quickly rose to icon status.
For years Puma has successfully released colorful iterations of the Clyde. The wilder the better. And while their return to the basketball arena has been shaky with the initial release of the Clyde Court, their follow-up release of the Uproar looks promising. Bringing Walt “Clyde” Frazier back to the forefront is also the perfect move to recapture the old-school basketball nostalgia.
Bested only by Nike in terms of a storied history that evokes strong feelings of nostalgia, Reebok has the best chance of recapturing a spot atop the brand pyramid. Reebok’s sneaker archive is deep and awe-inspiring, which makes their current market standing somewhat surprising.
Throughout the 90’s Reebok Basketball was very contentious with Nike’s own basketball arm. With players like Shawn Kemp, Shaquille O’Neal, and the backbone of Reebok Basketball himself, Allen Iverson, Reebok cultivated itself as a highly viable court alternative to everything swoosh. Shoes like the Shaqnosis and the Kamikaze still move many sneakerheads into a slight frenzy as they recall the vicious dunks and jams associated with the sneaker’s namesakes. Allen Iverson’s Question and Answer sneaker series changed the game and ultimately sneaker marketing. Focusing on finesse and quick moves, the Iverson series approached basketball sneakers in a different light, even tagging in hip-hop artist Jadakiss to promote the brands street-borne credentials. These moves in Reebok’s NBA arm created storied and timeless associations with their 90’s basketball silhouettes.
Similarly, Reebok’s lifestyle division has a plethora of historic models. The Club C and Workout are 80’s classics that have seen a reinvigoration with new collaborations and colorways. The Reebok Classic is a true sneaker legend. Very few sneakers can last 30+ years unchanged and still have a strong following in their original guise, but the Classic makes it happen.
Reebok’s missteps lie in it trying to redefine itself with new unpopular models like the Fury series. True success for the brand lies in capitalizing on the nostalgic aspects of its history.
The Life & Death of Boost
2016 dawned and the sneaker world was a flutter. Adidas had dropped a new technology which was available on its new line of lifestyle runners; Boost technology had popped. The NMD and Ultraboost hype “boosted” Adidas into the #2 sneaker spot. Then with a further buoy from Kanye West’s Yeezy line, Adidas was able to strike into the #1 spot, briefly. By mid-2017, boost technology had peaked. Boost fanatics from the year before seemed scarce, and even though Yeezy was pushing the Adidas boat forward, first place was unsustainable.
But what sank the Adidas wave? People claim the Nike marketing arm (as insanely talented as they are) was responsible for a relentless onslaught that caught Adidas off-guard. However, the reality is much simpler. Despite the greatness that is Nike marketing, the quiver in the arrow that killed the Adidas wave was nostalgia.
While boost technology was innovative, comfortable, and for a moment, super cool, it offered no long-lasting feeling of importance. When compared to a bred Air Jordan 1 or an Atmos Air Max 1, the feeling from buying boost is short-lived.
Adidas, while a sneaker powerhouse of the modern era, has a very limited sneaker archive. Adidas’ failure to perpetuate the number one spot for a prolonged period lies in their inability to fully capture the heart of the market outside of the fütbol crowd. Most millennials didn’t grow up coveting sneakers from Adidas. Outside of the Stan Smith and Shelltoes, Adidas’ relevance pre-2000 was limited to the world of soccer.
Someone somewhere is reading this and underestimating the overwhelming power of nostalgia in the sneaker community, but the signs are all around you. In December, Nike’s Jordan Brand division sold out of one million pairs of Air Jordan 11 Concord’s and similarly sold six-figures numbers of their Infrared Air Jordan 6 over the past two weeks. Each week classic Jordan silhouettes are introduced in new, unimpressive colorways with less than premium materials and still sell in numbers that would embarrass even the most ambitious new silhouettes, that is the power of nostalgia.
Written by: David Blackmon