7 out of 10 people you see on the streets of Paris are walking around wearing a pair of white leather shoes. How did what started off as quirky tennis shoes evolve into a must-have urban fashion element? I’m sure most who sport these around do not even know who Stan Smith really is. I wonder how many took a moment to Google the name to discover that he was a yesteryear tennis player who used to play in the 1970s… Then again, who cares about that when the shoes can be paired up with anything from a summer dress to a jumpsuit. It is a boon for someone like me with giant feet and a low threshold for pain.
The Sneaker Culture
Being one of the most appreciated unisex footwear in the world, sneakers have been around since the early 19th century. They were primarily known for their utility in the world of sports. Slowly but surely, they became a part of the All-American dream. The youth of America started to embrace this fashion choice mostly as a sign of rebellion. It was a symbol of liberation and was against the strictness of conformity. At a time when only athletes were seen wearing these shoes, Adidas did something clever to facilitate the crossover to mainstream streetwear. They planted the shoes in the hands of movie celebrities and also placed the product in prime time television. As celebrities started to adopt this style, so did everyone else.
Today the shoes symbolize many things. With Steve Jobs and Mark Zukerberg, it has become the fashion for doers who don’t have the time for facades.
The Turnaround for Adidas
The sore point for Adidas has always been the US market for years now. Sales have been dipping constantly and they wanted a winner. Something that breaks more than just one boundary to bring them back in the game. It is this challenge that really nudged Adidas to reinvent themselves through Stan Smith. When sports brands bring back products from history, it usually rides on the mileage of nostalgia. In this case, it was not done like that. Adidas merely tapped the customer on the shoulder and went, “Hey, you should be loving these shoes!”.
Step 1 – Deny the customer: As an attempt to make the product scarce, Adidas removed the product from its shelves in 2012. This was the first move to make the customer take notice of the brand. As expected, some loyalist started making noise about it. This was a stroke of genius as they used one of the basics of marketing – a dissatisfied customer tells more people than a satisfied one, to their advantage.
Step 2- Manage the image: This strategy hadn’t changed much since the 1950’s really for Adidas. Again they carefully selected celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres to sport the shoes again and pop culture absorbed it quickly. In my opinion, comfortable shoes are an argument in itself. Even the French started to buy into this when Vogue released an edition with model Gisele Bündchen wearing nothing but a pair of Stan Smiths.
Step 3 – Happy 50 Stan Smith! They launched the shoes on the 50th anniversary of the original shoes.
Culling the Cult on Social Media
While on the one hand celebrities were posting their own customized Stan Smith shoes on social media, Adidas passed the same to the other hand by taking it to the masses and making them feel like celebrities themselves. This was a great way of riding the selfie wagon in a meaningful way. What makes anything a must-have is its ubiquitousness, right? Adidas took care of that using instagram. Millions of customers started posting pictures of their own Stan Smiths and soon tons of user-generated content flowed its way. Everyday people were sharing their stories and linking them to Adidas. The hastag #stansmith has about 1.3 Million posts, not to mention the other related hashtags that were also created. Although an integrated marketing campaign (IMC) was created around the re-launch, social media was the fulcrum. Mostly because of its potential to infect.
Adidas sold 8 billion pairs in 2015. This was 2 years back. Now sales have started dipping for Stan Smith and the company is planning to do the same to replicate it for some of its other products.
By the way, I just bought a new pair today. I’m two seasons too late. Sigh. Check out my instagram (@karsuresh) post below: