Complex Networks’ “Sneaker Shopping” YouTube series has grown from an impromptu olive branch for the rapper Wale to one of the company’s top series.
The show — which follows host Joe LaPuma, Complex Networks’ vice president of content strategy, as he shops for sneakers with a celebrity — averages 1.9 million views per episode. Certain episodes have soared beyond that, including those featuring Migos (6.7 million) and the Ball family (7 million). It’s now the No. 1 sneaker shopping show on YouTube, a genre that includes competition from GQ and YouTubers like The Fung Bros.
The idea first came about in 2011, when Complex decided to film rapper Jim Jones shopping at famed sneaker retailer Flight Club while he promoted his latest album. “We had no intentions of revisiting it, and it was very rough compared to what you see now,” said LaPuma. Instead of shutting the store down, as they do now, they filmed it amidst the public, with sneakerheads running in and out of shots.
“Sneaker Shopping” host and Complex Networks’ vice president of content strategy, Joe LaPuma
In 2014, the company brought it back as a Hail Mary of sorts.
Wale, who was upset about not having his latest album, “The Gifted,” placed on Complex’s “50 Best Albums of the Year” list, had made a widely reported call to the company’s editorial team to cry personal bias. Despite recording and publishing the call on the Complex site, LaPuma said they were eager to mend the relationship. “We don’t like to have issues with celebrities,” he said.
Given Wale’s known penchant for sneakers, they invited him over to shoot a sneaker shopping episode, in which they could show the audience that any beef was behind them. It took a little persuading, said LaPuma, but it paid off. The audience loved it.
LaPuma realized they might be onto something worth pursuing more often, so they kicked off a monthly series that was made weekly at the start of this year. A new episode debuts every Monday and is continuously promoted throughout the week, with clips and outtakes that are shared across both Complex’s and Complex Sneakers’ Instagram, Facebook and Twitter channels. On Instagram, the two accounts together count almost 2.7 million followers.
The focus on sneakers is strategic: “Sneakers have such a rabid fanbase,” said LaPuma. “Even exclusive T-shirts and hoodies don’t sell out as quickly as a new, exclusive sneaker.”
Indeed, customers today are willing to line up for hours to get their hands on a new Nike release and will pay bots to score the latest Yeezy drop.
Rita Ora and Joe LaPuma on “Sneaker Shopping”
The show has grown from an off-the-cuff production to one requiring two producers and 6-10 people on set at any given time. Though it’s usually filmed in New York, where Complex is based, Los Angeles–based episodes are frequent, given the celebrity locals. But as LaPuma described it, “it’s a very get-up-and-go type of operation,” meaning that he’ll often book a flight on the day of shooting, if a celebrity they’ve been chasing finally has an opening.
“Certain celebrities will keep putting us off, but then they’ll be promoting something randomly and will email saying, ‘Hey, we have one hour to shoot on this day,’” he said.
That was the case with the famously media-shy football player Marshawn Lynch, who was looking to promote the Fam1st Foundation which supports underprivileged youth.
The show guests aren’t relegated to rappers and athletes. Other less-obvious guests include Bella Hadid, 76-year-old Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Chris Rock. “We like to really keep the audience guessing,” said LaPuma, of the non-strategic strategy. “If it was just sneakerheads, I think it would be a little stale.”
Guests’ only requirement is to show up, though it doesn’t hurt if they end up promoting the show themselves. When Bella Hadid posted the trailer for her episode on Instagram, for instance, it reached 1.3 million views. “We can’t control that, though,” said LaPuma. “If they don’t like how their shoelace was tied or something, they might not.”
Despite endless marketing speak relating to views, however, it’s how long the average viewer watches a show that really counts. Although Complex has shared these stats in the past for shows like “Everyday Struggle,” Complex said they don’t reveal this information.
Joe LaPuma and Bella Hadid on “Sneaker Shopping”
Less opaque is how they’re making money. While brands don’t pay to be featured on the show, each episode has a sponsor that is mentioned in the opening credits. Some of the biggest sponsors have included McDonald’s, Cricket Wireless and Showtime. Other brands are just eager to take part — whether it’s their store being shopped or their shoe being highlighted — according to LaPuma, because the inherent promotion comes off as more organic than anything on their owned channels.
Looking forward to 2018, LaPuma is chasing a few hard-to-reach guests for the show. “The kids want Travis Scott; he’s the No. 1 request,” he said — but on his personal wish list is Lebron James, Odell Beckham and the rapper-beloved Jerry Seinfeld. “It takes a while, but one day, we’ll get them!”