LOS ANGELES — At the second edition of ComplexCon, which took place last November in Long Beach, Calif., Nike was the fan favorite. Its programing, brand activations and storytelling was interactive and impactful. The brand hosted talks between Kendrick Lamar and Kobe Bryant and set up an area were guests could customize a pair of white Air Force 1s alongside influencers and designers. It also didn’t hurt that it was fresh from releasing and seeding its well-received The 10 collaboration with Off-White’s Virgil Abloh. Based on talks and the overall mood, there seemed to be a marked shift in brand sentiment from the first ComplexCon in 2016 where Adidas was the “winner.”
Adidas must have taken notes. For NBA All Star Weekend, which was held last weekend in Los Angeles, the company made a much larger push to align itself with basketball and the U.S. market. It set up the 747 Warehouse, which was essentially a two-day festival that featured musical performances from artists including N.E.R.D. and Lil Uzi Vert, and experiential brand spaces that brought to life its partnerships with Y-3, Parley, an organization that advocates for ocean preservation, Alexander Wang, Bape and Pharrell Williams, who designed a Human Race basketball court. In an attempt to democratize access, Adidas didn’t sell tickets but instead invited guests to apply for admission — the company received 500,000 applicants and 20,000 were able to get in.
“I would definitely say ComplexCon was a starting point in our strategy to connect with the U.S. market,” said Niels Rossow, Adidas’ head of key cities in North America. “I think we just need to tell our brand story a little better. And that’s what we were trying to do in this Warehouse. It’s about giving a better understanding and creating an experience that the kids can relate to.”
Adidas also attempted to democratize how it is selling to customers. Guests’ wristbands were tied to an RFID raffle system. They could scan the wristband at beacons placed throughout the area that were dedicated to specific product. Guests would receive notifications when the product dropped and if they won the raffle. They would then retrieve it from a designated area. Popular sneaker releases over the weekend included the Yeezy 500 in the blush colorway, the Bape x Adidas Dame 5 and the Crazy BYWs.
The highlight for most attendees was the Brooklyn Creator Farm, which granted guests two hours with different creators and an Adidas designer to build their own sneakers and showcase their open sourcing program. Kanye West made an appearance at the workshop on Saturday.
“This isn’t a customization play,” said Adidas sneaker designer Marc Dolce, which seemed like a slight dig at Nike, his former employer that allows customers to decorate sneakers as opposed to make them. “We are building new shoes together.”
According to Rossow, the Brooklyn Creator Farm pop-up speaks to customers who might want to work at Adidas in the future.
“Being a sneaker designer is maybe one of the most aspired jobs these days and we wanted to open the doors a little bit and let people look behind the scenes and get this experience,” said Rossow. “We want to change lives and that doesn’t need to happen only through the lens of sports.”
Adidas used a “Calling All Creators” tagline, while a little over a mile away on Mateo Street, Nike had set up its Makers of the Game space, that consisted of a basketball court, an area where guests could customize sneakers, a store and a branded area for Kendrick Lamar’s Cortez Kenny II sneakers. Nike used this release to launch its SNKRS PASS app, which was built at Nike’s S23NYC digital studio in New York City and allows members within a defined geographic radius to reserve product in the SNKRS app and then pay and pick up at a store or event location.
Fans were able to reserve their Cortez Kenny II shoes by reserving them via SNKRS Pass on the Friday before the release. They then were able to pick up their pair at the Nike Makers H.Q. The first 150 consumers to pick up their shoes on Saturday were also surprised with an invite to the Kendrick Lamar concert on the Makers stage later that evening. And certain customers who attended the concert were also treated to a surprise exclusive access drop for pairs of the Cortez Kenny II.
Other key sneaker releases included Kobe I Protro collaboration with Undefeated, the Lebron x Kith sneaker, and the 90/10 pack, which offers customers a 90 percent completed design and the ability to customize the other 10 percent.
“SNKRS Pass is a fair and safe way to reserve, pay and pick up your pair. It’s all the energy of a high-heat drop, but with less drama and anxiety,” said Ron Faris, general manager of SNKRS. “And by incorporating this experience at one of our signature events, shopping becomes more organic and contextual for the consumer. This in turn fortifies the authentic connection with our most core members.”
Both brands utilized event-based selling in a big way, which Faris believes will continue to happen.
“As the landscape of retail is shifting, it’s clear that mobile Millennials require a sharable experience when shopping for their favorite products. The experience is the story. It’s the shared moment that makes its way organically across social ‘campfires’ like Instagram and Twitter,” said Faris. “Leveraging an event or experience while shopping is an opportunity to enhance storytelling and deepen the relationship a brand has with its consumers.”