In my last post, I spoke about how brands are going to have to start making some tough decisions when it comes to their partnerships with players and organizations regarding the financial benefit of these contracts. A lot of companies like Under Armour are being forced to tighten their belts right now and are being forced to rethink how they can adjust their practices to be adaptable in today’s climate. I don’t doubt that it was extremely difficult for Under Armour to cut ties with UCLA recently, so there must have been some severe financial loss going on. Brands make their money from their consumers, so I have to assume that this financial loss was due to less consumers purchasing their products. This indicates the brand and its competitors need to adapt to meet the current needs of the consumer by recognition of what consumers are going through, listening to their thoughts, and adjusting practices to appeal to their consumer base.
Up until Covid-19 hit, we as consumers were used to being marketed to, used to being told we need something because we won’t be adequate without it, and this was the status quo. With everything that has happened this year, the times are changing and people are expecting more compassion and are angrier when the gap between rich and poor is broadcast. Numerous celebrities faced backlash during quarantine for posting about how “tough” the quarantine has been on them, all while sitting comfortably in multi-million dollar mansions and/or mega yachts. It showed how out of touch they are with what the world is going through. I think brands have also been ignorant towards this as well and have neglected the needs of their consumers. They have played into making their products wanted, yet unattainable, at the expense of their consumer. I think this is where brands need to take a hard look at their current practices and make inroads to ensure their consumers feel wanted and heard.
With the sudden passing of Kobe Bryant, we saw a spike in the sale of his shoes with some people making a lot of money off this tragedy. Last month, in honor of Mamba Week, Nike offered a lot of limited release products with his name knowing full well that they did not have enough product for sale for Kobe’s fans. This resulted in third party sellers exploiting the rarity of the products by making a ton of money off it. It also meant Nike was essentially capitalizing on bereavement. Putting out a product with this amount of meaning at limited release means it wasn’t about truly celebrating Kobe and allowing fans to embrace him by rocking his gear, it was purely about profits. I know Nike is not unaware of the frustration this has caused to their consumer base, so it’s disappointing to me that they know their consumers are hurting, they know they love Kobe, but they aren’t going to do anything to help alleviate this. This release was supposed to be about Kobe’s legacy and celebrating his life, and this shows they did not truly create this release with good intentions. It makes me angry as a fan, especially during these hard times, when I can’t buy something in honour of a great player because the release has been rigged to be unnecessarily exclusive. Let the real fans purchase the gear.
This isn’t the first time Nike has neglected responsibility for their product releases. People have killed each other over getting a pair of Jordans and Nike decided to stay silent on making improvements to their marketing. While they didn’t put the gun in anyone’s hands, they did put the thought of necessity in people’s heads. We all have something that in our eyes is a necessity and big brands like Nike not only have the power over messaging, they also have the power over whether or not the consumer can have access to the items they need. The consumer is taught through persistent marketing that this product is a necessity, something that is needed and coveted. In order to be cool, you need this product. Brands will give free products to celebrities to increase the desire from their consumer base when they have no intention of making it accessible to everyone. It’s an elitist move and one that has had tragic consequences in the past. Even when the consequences have been less severe, it demonstrates that the brand does not truly care about the people who generate their incomes. The consumer is only someone to take money from and use to raise their own elitism.
True commitment needs to be more than just lip service. For example, Nike is sharing information about the organizations they are donating to and partnering with, letting the public know what a great job they are doing, but they are still behind in fair hiring practices and equal purchasing opportunities for consumers. They have been committed to keeping the divide between their brand and their consumers. If they want to truly commit to the fans, they would create opportunities so anyone, from any socio-economic background, can have a realistic chance of acquiring their gear, especially important releases such as the Kobe Mamba Week collection.
A few of my ideas are creating an advance list sign up. Allow people to sign up for pre-order so they know their place in line and can guarantee the product in advance. For those in the virtual line-up who did not get the shoe, give them a special code to be “first in line” for the actual release. In general, further communication would also be appreciated. Let your consumers know up front what kind of quantities are available so we don’t get our hopes up. Further, giving limited releases away to celebrities who are only wearing them to make money is not a great look. It contributes to the elitism of a product and promotes unhealthy competition among fans that have too often taken things too far. At the end of the day, brands are going to have to make adjustments to their sales tactics. Lining up at a brick and mortar store isn’t going to be possible for a long time, so the releases need to be better tailored to online-only.
After the murder of George Floyd, a number of companies shared support of the Black Lives Matter movement because the people are at the point where enough is enough. There has finally been a disruption in the status quo and it can no longer be ignored. I’ve seen some good steps in the right direction, but ultimately brands are still ignoring a lot of the issues and carrying on as normal. There needs to be obvious effort towards commitment to communities, and showing their why is more than just about money. The old marketing methods are not going to cut it anymore and they aren’t going to speak to the consumer, and they may find themselves losing out in the long term if they continue to make products inaccessible to those who are most passionate about the brand. Why should we continue to covet these products if it’s constant disappointment when their products are never available? At some point, we may get tired of being ignored and we may get tired of brands essentially saying our money isn’t good enough. Make your products for those who want them and value the thoughts of those who value your products to keep a long-standing brand commitment from your true fans.