To stand out in the market and continue driving sales, Puma and sneaker marketplace The Edit LDN are turning to marketing techniques that are more advanced than standard product collaborations, leveraging ideas from web3 and gaming.
“We know that we need to level up,” said David Ballin, sports marketing manager for Puma Basketball at the Puma Group. “We can no longer rely on just putting two labels together and expecting the consumer to feel like it’s unexpected, or have that same emotional excitement and attachment to that program.”
As such, Puma is now offering exclusive content, which is rolled out over six weeks, through select sneakers as an add-on. Announced on June 14, phygital product developer Legitimate partnered with Puma and Jay-Z-founded entertainment agency Roc Nation to launch the “Evolution of the Mixtape” RS-XL sneakers. Each is embedded with NFC tags under the tongue and is meant to honor the 50th anniversary of hip-hop.
When scanned with a phone, the tag unlocks a digital portal featuring content, including weekly mixtape drops featuring unreleased tracks and behind-the-scenes studio and documentary content centered on Roc Nation artists. The shoes are available in three colorways for $130 each. They’re selling through Puma’s direct channels, as well as the websites and North American stores of Foot Locker and Champs.
“If you can extend the customer journey beyond that purchase point, that’s where the key milestones are, when [it comes to] brand loyalty and relationships,” said Calvin Chan, founder of Legitimate. “There’s a higher likelihood of re-engagement with this. [Meanwhile] Dior’s latest, B33 sneakers have an NFC chip, which gives access to a digital twin, which is more of a ‘that’s cool’ item. You check it out once, and you may never do it again.”
For Puma, the idea is to integrate NFC components — which have been more common in Puma’s web3 launches — into a traditional collaboration, with Roc Nation, to provide added value to the customer. The experience — including the sneakers’ marketing across Instagram, Twitter and Threads — has intentionally been stripped of web3 lingo and mechanics. The NFC component is only mentioned as a scannable feature. That’s despite the fact that an NFT component is involved, offering blockchain-backed authentication of the physical item.
“A lot of people who are not familiar with the tech may think, ‘There’s a chip in my shoe that’s emitting 5G waves and tracking every moment.’ And that’s not how it works,” said Chan. “Customers own the experience, from having the option to scan the shoes to giving us permission to track their activity to choosing to store their email address.”
“Content is key,” said Ballin. “It’s an additional element that is needed and expected, at this point, especially for the younger generation that grew up with the whole technology-and-social nine yards at their fingertips.” On April 27, Puma posted $2.41 billion in first-quarter 2023 sales, an increase of 14.4% year-over-year.
Gaining the attention of younger sneaker fans has also become a challenge for other sneaker brands and marketplaces. Innovative approaches are needed, especially considering the recently reported downturn in sneaker sales. On June 20, Nike announced it will be launching digital world “Airphoria” within the Fortnite game, where players will be able to take part in treasure hunts for sneakers. The move comes amid a slew of new gaming and sneaker partnerships. In 2022, the worldwide gaming market was estimated to be worth $347 billion.
“In sneakers and streetwear, there’s so much overlap with gaming and other entertainment mediums,” said Moses Rashid, founder of sneaker retail platform The Edit LDN, which sells its exclusive sneakers and apparel in Harrods. “Some of our celebrity investors play games like ‘NBA 2K’ quite a lot.”
For The Edit LDN, gaming is a way to mix its online and offline presence while engaging new customers. For the Sneakerness festival, taking place in London from September 30-October 1, it’s teaming up with gaming company 2K to create a bespoke gaming area offering basketball fans the chance to preview the NBA 2K24 game. In addition, The Edit LDN is running a mixed-gender, two-on-two basketball tournament on site. The Edit LDN’s aim is to increase company awareness ahead of the holidays. Sneakerness attracts 15,000 attendees during the two-day event.
“We’ve never been exposed to this huge community that we didn’t know existed until three to six months ago,” said Rashid. “As we continue to build our brand, we need to think about where our audiences are.”
“Gone are the days where an influencer posts something and suddenly you get a lot of sales, as an effect,” said Rashid. “But we’ll have 15-20 influencers there. And it will be a mix of famous faces, TikTokers with 1 million-plus followers and micro-influencers, and they’ll be creating interactive content throughout the weekend.” The influencers will include Lanardo Smith (@yungsbk), Thierry Tek (@thierrytek) and Franklin Boateng (@kingoftrainers), among others.