Concords, Christmas and the Marketing Genius of Nike’s Jordan Brand

If you’re a sneaker enthusiast or know someone who is, chances are you’ve probably heard the word “Concords” a lot in the past few days.  Even those who aren’t into kicks have probably seen “Concords” trending on Twitter in the U.S. or have heard the word on the news in sentences accompanied by not-so-nice words like “fights,” “pepper spray” and “stabbings.” The “Concords” are a latest colorway of the Air Jordan XI sneakers to be released near Christmas and they are currently the most coveted new sneaker on the market.

It is not very often that a single product dominates Christmas lists for more than one holiday season. Tickle Me Elmo, Cabbage Patch Kids and Teletubbies all had great demand but none of these sales juggernauts has had the repeat success of the Jordan XI sneaker. Annually released on December 23rd, different iterations of the patent leather sneaker have created increased demand every year since the trend started in 2008.

For the past four years sneaker enthusiasts across the country have lined up overnight in harsh winter weather outside of sneaker stores for a chance to purchase a pair of the extremely limited XI shoes for $180.  The annual pre-Christmas frenzy began in 2008 with the release of the final Countdown Pack, which included the Black and Red XI (technically released on 12/20). Jordan Brand followed with the Space Jam, Cool Grey and Concord XI releases in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. . Each year the shoes sell out online and in stores within minutes of availability raking in big money and press for Nike.

The real question is: why are people so excited about a shoe that is over 15-years old? The reason the shoe has maintained its relevance is two-fold: First it is the scarcity of the product. When Jordan Brand releases a shoe they release a limited number of pairs, when those are sold out, they are gone. This rarity is why many of the XI retro releases routinely sell for at least double their MSRP on eBay and similar outlets. The second reason for the excitement around the sneaker is its design. Originally released during Michael Jordan’s first comeback in the 1995-1996 NBA season, the XIs were unlike any sneaker that anyone had ever seen. The shoe was arguably the first to blend on-court performance with off-the-court street style.

The shoe, created by Nike’s legendary architect turned designer Tinker Hatfield, featured a number of sneaker design firsts that made it like no other shoe the world had seen before. From the font, to the patent leather and the  number “45” that was embroidered on the first pairs that Mike wore, it was an instant classic.

Ironically, Jordan Brand doesn’t spend an exorbitant amount of time or finances to market the retro shoe. As the old saying goes, “the product sells itself.” “You can put a big circle around December 23rd on your calendar and know its Jordan XI day. In terms of training customers to really hone in on this one over all the other ones, Jordan Brand has done a good job. Not so much marketing but its based on an exercise in discipline,” says Duk-ki Yu, CEO/Founder of Major, a Washignton DC boutique that caters to the sneaker-obsessed.

Although Jordan Brand’s parent company, Nike does not release specific financials on their subdivisions, the company reported $5.7 billion in revenue for its fiscal 2012-second quarter, which ended on November 30, 2011. After surpassing $1 billion in sales for the first time in 2009, there is no doubt that Jordan Brand is an integral cog in Nike’s revenue stream.

A large percentage of that sales income is based on Jordan Brand’s re-introduction of shoes that were hugely popular in the 1980’s and 1990’s. However, when it comes to sheer demand, the XI reigns supreme over even the most popular Jordan retros. “Generally, a lot of younger consumers have a connection to the later models and a lot of older customers have an affinity for early Jordan releases, says Ivan Rodriquez, Marketing and Promotions rep for San Francisco street fashion anchor store, True Clothing. “What makes the XI so iconic is it crosses all boundaries, you have everyone from toddlers to people in their 30’s and 40’s who are excited about buying the shoe.”

Excitement may be an understatement considering recent news reports of unruly crowds bum rushing mall doors, shooting and fighting from Virginia to California and many spots in between. Nike released a statement to hype today’s release saying “Tinker made it shine. Mike made it fly. You made it iconic. Jordan 11’s only come around once a year, so don’t miss this highly anticipated release.” With all of the negative media attention surrounding the XI Concord release, what “we” once made iconic, “we” are now making infamous. Maybe it is time for Jordan Brand to rethink the release approach to a marketing strategy that promotes consumer demand as much as it does consumer safety –Branden J. Peters