Waiting for the drop

First featured on Contagious

In February 2019, Nike opened a pop-up store in Atlanta. The space, dubbed Nike
Studio of Dreams, is a physical manifestation of the brand’s SNKRS app – a onestop destination for all things sneakers, which hosts surprise launches, exclusive content and the chance to buy limited items first.

To recreate the same level of excitement and demand the app has, in real life, Nike used iPhone’s AirDrop feature for a surprise sneaker drop. On 1 February 2019, shoppers in the Atlanta pop-up, who had their AirDrop feature turned on, received a notification from Nike’s Studio of Dreams, asking them to accept a file.
Every sneakerhead who did, received a video explaining that they had unlocked
access to a one-to-one experience. Not only would they receive a custom-made jersey created by top Atlanta designers (Dr. Dax, Zipporah Joel, Debbi Snax or
FRKO), they’d also participate in a customisation session at A Ma Maniére (a local
Atlanta streetwear boutique) where they could design a pair of Nike Air Force 1

Users then had one hour to message the brand and claim their spot. If they wished, they could also share the AirDrop ticket with others. AnalogFolk, Portland and Atlanta-based production company Fugo, the agencies behind the AirDrop1 activation, didn’t promote the drop as the aim was to take shoppers by surprise.

As well as this drop, Nike’s Studio of Dreams pop-up is hosting other exclusive
releases daily. It uses location-based technology to let SNKRS app users unlock
limited-edition kicks during their visit and there’s a vending machine inside the
store that gives out merchandise for free (stickers, pins and smartphone cases with a SNKRS or Atlanta theme) to anyone who scans their Nike+ Pass or SNKRS QR code. The pop-up will be open in Atlanta every day through to the end of March.

INSIGHT / Die-hard fans / Nike launched its SNKRS app in 2015, with the goal of becoming ‘a one-stop sneaker shop that grants mobile access to the most premium Nike sneakers’. In 2016, however, Nike acquired Virgin Mega (a 12-person team focused on building communities created within Richard Branson’s international brand) to help it launch a digital studio. That digital studio, s23NYC, turned SNKRS into a community platform. There are lots of branded apps users can download to purchase products, so SNKRS refocused its aim on making the hunt for kicks exciting and surprising, targeting mainly ‘hypebeasts’ – absolute die-hard sneaker fans.

Speaking at The Next Web Conference 2018, Ron Faris, general manager at Nike’s
s23NYC digital studio, explained that the strategy underpinning the SNKRS app
follows a tribal/cult model (see image below), where the most hardcore fans act as influencers and spread information about exclusive releases and surprise drops (that they find out about through the app) to the casual sneaker lovers (who follow them to gain that insider info).

A hypebeast who unlocked an in-app challenge in eight minutes, for example,
would have gone on Twitter to spread the word on how to do it by the ninth
minute. This is exactly what happened when Nike dropped its re-release of the Blue Foamposite One, a shoe worn (and customised for the court with a black sharpie) by now-retired basketball player Penny Hardaway. In order to unlock it, fans had to figure out (with no hints from Nike) that they should go onto the app and use their finger to colour in certain parts of the shoe (the same parts that Hardaway did), this would then unlock a video of Hardaway telling them to look out for a push notification that would allow them to buy the product.

One fan found this Easter egg in eight minutes, which started the conversation.
Faris explained that this resulted in 100,000 total unlocks – a much higher number than what the team was hoping for (5,000). ‘Now you’re seeing the community is telling the story, you’re not telling the story. The hypebeast, the one hardcore player discovered it, acted accordingly and then shared it,’ explained Faris. ‘All the trade press followed the followers and started reporting on what the followers were doing.’ Nike’s approach is working. Since its launch, the SNKRS app has amassed over 500,000 footwear fans. The AirDrop release is the latest iteration of SNKRS’ vision for the future of commerce, which surprises and excites sneakerheads worldwide.

Handle with care / iPhone’s AirDrop is usually a peer-to-peer method of
transferring files, which is why people tend not to have it on unless they need to.
This could potentially create a barrier to entry for Nike’s surprise drop. However,
the brand knows that its fans are primed to expect digital drops at any time
(especially those already in the SNKRS pop-up shop). SNKRS has a history of
launching the drops in a mobile-friendly way; it has done other geo-location drops in the past, for example, as well as AR scavenger hunts.

While AirDrop notifications can feel quite intrusive if you don’t expect them, as
Nike has built strong relationships with its sneaker fans, it can get away with
popping up on people’s home screens. In fact, it could be an ‘intrusion’ they
welcome as it offers them something valuable. ‘AirDrop is an underutilised
functionality that’s simple to use. No brand has really leveraged its power in a way that’s not just for ‘shock’ value,’ Carren O’Keefe, partner and ECD of AnalogFolk, said in a press release. ‘With AirDrop1 we wanted to create a drop that matched the energy and creativity of Atlanta. It was an opportunity to share some of Nike’s most elite experiences with the people of the city. It was all about being at the right place, at the right time. It could have been anyone. After all, dreams are made here.’