NEW YORK — Accustomed to barraging customers with ads and commercials, a few athletic labels are toning down the feverish pitch to try their hand at viral marketing.
The concept of creating a buzz by word-of-mouth instead of blatant branding is not revolutionary, but it is new territory for some. Last month, Reebok announced its plans to roll out Rbk by Diane Von Furstenberg, a collection the designer developed for tennis star Venus Williams, without any Madison Avenue fanfare. Aside from creating a special label, the company has no plans to plug the new collection in a typical multimillion dollar campaign this summer.
Nike has descended on Manhattan’s NoLIta neighborhood by taking a 2,000-square-foot space at 255 Elizabeth Street to showcase a company-backed art project. Aside from staging an opening-night party there for the artists and designers who participated, the sneaker giant has kept the show closed. That’s a pretty pricy bash considering monthly rents are said to run around $75 per square foot.
"It’s not really open to the public," a Nike spokeswoman said. "We’re still working on the program in terms of what and how we can connect with the community and beyond. It’s not a store. It’s intended to be a creation to connect with the local community."
For the debut exhibition, 14 designers and artists were commissioned to turn a box of Nike footwear and apparel scraps into whatever they fancied. Project Alabama turned its package into a midriff top and miniskirt with the Nike logo intact, but others were more inventive. Industrial designer Yves Béhar, who heads up Fuse Project in San Francisco, shoved the material through a wood chipper and then turned it into a modern art creation.
Participants were given a stipend to create their own customized Nike sneakers.
This isn’t the first time Elizabeth Street has been a venue for viral marketing. In 1999, Levi’s set up an art show called "Exposure" across the street from where Nike is now located. Ron Pompeii, creative director of Pompeii A.D., the New York agency that developed the Levi’s project, is not impressed with Nike’s latest venture, especially since its branding is obvious."This is more about Nike than it is about the neighborhood," Pompeii said. "They’re trying too hard to be cool in a neighborhood that is already cool. This looks like a totally foreign thing. It’s flat with graphics and mannequins, which department stores might have if they were trying to be hip.
"They’ve missed the point altogether. What Nike’s talking about is form, not substance. This emerging culture is about substance. If a brand supports the values of a generation, the brand will allow it to speak for itself and not be hung up about whether it says, ‘Nike, Nike, Nike.’"
Reebok, on the other hand, is not overly concerned about splashing its name on the Rbk by Diane Von Furstenberg collection, which bows at retail in late July.
Jan Sharkansky, vice president and general manager of women’s for Reebok, said, "We want this to be coded and contagious. You have to be in-the-know to know. It’s viral."
Reebok also used viral marketing at last month’s Boston Marathon by giving temporary tattoos with "The Pain Train is Coming" to spectators along the 26.2-mile course. That resulted in a flurry of national publicity.
MINI_motion, a new apparel and accessories collection geared for fans of the MINI, BMW’s matchbox-size cars, also tested out some viral marketing. During press previews in March at Plug, a New York-based public relations company, BMW’s minicars stopped their share of passersby just by parking a MINI outside the office. Most pedestrians didn’t make the connection that the design on the vehicle’s roof matched MINI_motion’s marketing graphics. The objective was to get people talking about MINI.
"It was unbelievable, so many people stopped to check it out," a MINI spokeswoman said. "We want organic growth and this to remain a unique thing."
Béhar, who designed MINI_motion, said he has worked on other successful viral pitches, such as Spacescent and Perfume09. Instead of advertising the new fragrances, the companies relied on him to create unusual bottles, which in turn attracted media coverage.
@kith is moving into children’s. The men’s and women’s streetwear brand has launched Kidset, a Kith kids line located in New York at 64 Bleecker Street. The line includes mini versions of staple Kith pieces like the Astor bomber jacket and the Kith box logo sweatshirts, along with a wall that can display up to 120 pairs of shoes from @adidas, @newbalance, @timberland and more. #wwdfashion
“I just wanted to create this fully rounded character, but I do think what excited me most was just the opportunity to give a group of people representation that I feel needs it. I like to do characters in projects that stand for something and Karolina definitely does, so that was really exciting to me,” @ginnygardner says of her new role in @hulu’s “The Runaways.” Gardner plays Karolina Dean, a queer superhero, which is a rarity for @marvel. Read more about Gardner’s character on WWD.com #wwdeye (📷: @dandoperalski)
@heriethpaul and @gracebol have a moment on the @victoriassecret fashion show 2017. See every look from the runway on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo) #wwdfashion #victoriassecret #VSFashionShow
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia