The coolest shoe on the street is a 44-year-old from an earlier era.
The Adidas Stan Smith seems suddenly ubiquitous, and is enjoying a hip quotient it hasn’t had since its namesake was a top tennis star. (Quick: Find the nearest cool kid wearing Stan Smiths and ask them if they know who Stan Smith is.)
But its rise hasn’t been as sudden as it seems. Adidas had already sold more than 40 million pairs of the shoes, when it decided to breathe new life into an old classic by first completely wiping it off the market in 2012 and then reintroducing it with careful, almost surgical precision in 2014. This was accompanied by an aggressive marketing push by integrated creative agency Lloyd & Co., along with additional efforts featuring social media celebs and influencers such as Celine designer Phoebe Philo and singer Pharrell Williams at the forefront.
“The resurgence truly took off with a carefully orchestrated relaunch starting with limited editions, a runway appearance and the help of fashion bloggers and social media influencers,” said Megan Hartman, strategy director at Red Peak Branding.
Here’s how Stan Smiths got a second life, one which it arguably didn’t even need, and became one of the most popular sneakers ever:
By controlling and spurring demand
Adidas managed to create significant buzz by removing Stan Smiths from shelves in 2012, a standard retail move aimed at boosting demand. According to the brand, this was a calculated move, before the brand started slowly and deliberately teasing them out through its various partnerships.
“We knew three and a half years before we did step one what would happen,” Jon Wexler, vp of global entertainment and influencer marketing at Adidas, told The Guardian. “First we cleaned it up out of the market.”
Creating the illusion of scarcity worked: “It’s a great lesson for any brand that’s onto a popular product,” said Sucharita Mulpuru, analyst at Forrester. “You have something hot and you make it even hotter by not having enough of it.”
By crafting an integrated marketing campaign
Celebrities and social media influencers helped fan the flames of buzz around the relaunch of the sneakers. The marketing push around Stan Smiths started with a select few partnerships with trendsetters and influencers, who were all given their own custom versions of the shoes. A$AP Rocky, Ellen DeGeneres and even Stan Smith himself, to name a few, helped create a lot of the initial buzz and anticipation. DeGeneres, for instance, shared her customized pair on Instagram.
Adidas also released a black and white documentary-style interview of Stan Smith on its official website as well as a viral video featuring famous fans of the shoe, including tennis star Andy Murray, discussing the impact of the original Stan Smith sneaker. The brand continues to use social media and its powerful arsenal of high-profile athlete and celebrity brand ambassadors to push out Stan Smiths even today, with singer Pharrell Williams frequently posting photos featuring his own.
“The benefit of having celebrity-status brand ambassadors is the extended reach that they can provide,” said Caitlin Aylward, senior research associate at L2 Research. “That brings more followers and interest back to the brand in an echo-effect that amplifies brand presence, making for an extremely powerful marketing and influencing tool.”
By playing off its heritage
Launched in 1971, Stan Smiths were the first leather tennis shoes ever made. Smith at the time was the top ranked player in the world. By 1988 the model had sold 22 million pairs, earning it a spot in the Guinness World Records book. When Adidas rebooted the line, it made sure to remain true to their heritage.
“Having an authentic backstory is a huge advantage,” said Jason Goldberg, svp of commerce and content practice at Razorfish. “It not only pulls in previous fans but also newer ones.”
Matt Powell, vp and sports industry analyst at NPD Group agreed, saying Adidas had not only had a winning product, but also great anticipation of the market.
“They anticipated the shift into retro that we’ve been going through the past couple of years,” he said. “They reintroduced Stan Smith at the peak of that trend. The retro shoe business is quite robust.”
By putting a high-street spin on the product
Sneakers were not a part of the fashionista’s everyday wardrobe until very recently. A lot of the credit for making sneakers street-chic goes to Stan Smith and Adidas (as well as Nike’s Air Jordans and Converse All Stars among others) for bringing them to the street.
When Céline’s Phoebe Philo ended her fall 2010 fashion show wearing Stan Smiths, for instance, she made them “palatable to women,” Wexler told The Guardian. The subsequent partnerships only cemented their place in people’s wardrobes further.
Adidas, whose 2015 revenue rose 16 percent to $19 billion, acknowledges this too.
“The tremendous success of our Originals business lies in our unique ability to recreate iconic sport moments and bring them to the street,” Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer said in the brand’s 2015 earnings call this March. “This is exactly what made our famous footwear franchises Stan Smith and Superstar driving forces of sneaker culture in 2015.”
What’s more, the shoe has come to signify self-expression. Its white canvas lends itself to endless remixes, designer collaborations and limited editions, said Red Peak’s Hartman. That might explain why, even two years after its relaunch, the sneaker continues to dominate social chatter. Since January 1, 2014, Adidas’ Stan Smith shoes have been mentioned over 272,000 times online, according to Brandwatch, with April 2016 and June 2016 seeing the highest volume with with over 24,000 mentions and 23,000 mentions respectively.
It is this capacity for customization, according to experts, which will ensure it stands the test of time. “The potential for customization is endless,” said Razorfish’s Goldberg. “That is the single biggest ingredient of its success.”