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When hip-hop star Kanye West released his limited edition Air Yeezy sneaker for Nike earlier this month, it ignited a wave of collective hysteria among sneakerheads — those guys with the ardor for branded footwear usually associated with Imelda Marcos or Carrie Bradshaw — that saw them camped out in front of stores overnight to get their hands on the rare designs. Needless to say, the sneakers have sold out and are now being offered on eBay for upward of $700.
Helping to fan the flames of Air Yeezy mania were a group of streetwear and sneaker blogs that breathlessly detailed the highly anticipated launch for months. Popular sites like Highsnobiety.com, Nicekicks.com and Hypebeast.com posted daily updates of the available colors and the stores that would be getting the precious cargo. Their role in the rollout was the latest example of how streetwear blogs have become influential arbiters of trends in this market and have evolved into key resources for news and information among young consumers.
“There was a time when magazines would bring us up to date once a month, but nowadays everything moves 10 times as fast and blogs serve as the only means fast enough to keep us on point,” said Jonas Bevacqua, cofounder and creative director at Irvine, Calif.-based LRG, a leading streetwear resource. “The blogs have somewhat launched this lifestyle worldwide to the masses.”
There are several hundred blogs dedicated to the streetwear scene — including highly specialized ones like Strictlyfitteds.com, which explores the world of baseball caps — but there are a couple dozen that have gained the most traction and biggest audiences. In addition to the aforementioned three blogs, these include Slamxhype.com, Thehundreds.com, Freshnessmag.com, Kicksonfire.com, Dailydrop.com, Freshngood.com, Sneakerfreaker.com and Kineda.com.
Highsnobiety, one of the most popular sites, was started in 2005 by David Fischer while he was a student at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. Now 26, he is based in Berlin but gears the site towards the U.S., where the bulk of traffic comes from. “My audience is a very Web-savvy demographic that grew up with the Internet,” he explained. “These guys didn’t necessarily grow up reading printed magazines, so online fashion news sites are a natural medium for them.”
Fischer notes the nature of streetwear, which is increasingly driven by fast-moving trends, exclusive capsule collections and one-off collaborations between brands and artists, has been conducive to the growth of the blog format. “This market is about hype and limited quantities and limited distribution,” he explained. “The blog format is well-suited to informing readers quickly about new products and where to buy them. A huge number of our readers come back to us on a daily basis because things change so fast. Companies are announcing new collaborations every week, because they are such an important part of the business.”
Fisher has expanded his company, Titel Media, to four newer blogs. Selectism.com focuses on designer brands (but from a downtown, hipster aesthetic); Radcollector.com covers action sports labels; Curated.com focuses on art, and Highsnobette.com is a foray into the women’s arena. The five sites combined pull in about 1.3 million unique visitors a month. In good months, the sites bring in over $50,000 in advertising revenue, according to Fischer.
To generate that revenue, Highsnobiety.com is part of the Complex Media Network and Selectism.com is part of a competing ad network called Hype Circle. The former is affiliated with Marc Ecko’s Complex magazine, while the latter is owned by OverAmerica, publisher of Vapors and BPM magazines.
“We do the complete suite of monetization services for these kinds of Web sites,” said Rich Antoniello, chief executive and publisher of Complex and the Complex Media Network. “We’ve been able to bring together a group of key related sites in this market, and we can now offer one-stop shopping to major advertisers. We can walk into a McDonald’s or Toyota — major brands that want to have a conversation with this audience, but need enough eyeballs to plan against — and provide them with a platform that the individual sites alone wouldn’t be able to.”
The Complex network includes 23 sites, including Complex.com. Most of the sites are independently owned but have exclusive contracts with Complex to manage all advertising revenue.
Last week, for example, VF Corp.’s Vans bought a one-day takeover of all the sites in the Complex network. Every blog ran Vans wallpaper that allowed consumers to click through to a Vans site. Antoniello pegged the cost at about $15 per 1,000 impressions, with a revenue share among Complex and the host sites.
The Complex sites attract 8.3 million unique visitors and over 100 million page views a month.
Unlike the Complex network, the sites that Hype Circle works with are not part of an exclusive network, and the participating sites can work with other advertising partners. Hype Circle works with about 200 sites, including style-focused blogs like Hypebeast.com, Kineda.com, and Sneakerfreaker.com, in addition to music and lifestyle blogs like Prettymuchamazing.com and Hipsterrunnoff.com.
David Ireland, executive vice-president at Hype Circle, calls his audience the “hyper-consumer generation,” comprised of the multicultural, tech-savvy, fashion-forward consumers that are shaping the tastes of the larger society. “These are the brand evangelists,” he noted of their unique appeal to marketers.
In one recent case study, Korean car maker Kia used Hype Circle to help introduce its 2009 urban crossover vehicle, called the Soul, to consumers outside the traditional automotive enthusiast channel. Hype Circle developed a Kia Soul-branded widget that was placed on key streetwear lifestyle sites that allowed users to upload their favorite music playlists. Users voted on all the playlists and the highest rated playlist won a trip to the Coachella music festival and a Kia-sponsored VIP event. The program garnered 15 million impressions for Kia.
“What we do is help marketers zero in on these tastemakers,” said Ireland. “If advertising on Facebook or MySpace is like aiming at the side of a barn, what we offer is nanomarketing. Each of these specialized blogs has their own little specialty, or silo, with their own devoted group of followers.”