Standing in Line for a Nike Air Yeezy

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On Thursdays I go into Cambridge to attend class at the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement. Today as I was walking from the T stop, I passed a small crowd gathered in front of storefronts along the way. They had arrayed camp chairs and sleeping bags at the edge of the sidewalk. I thought at first that they were picketing a leather goods store and stopped to ask one of the crowd what was going on.

They were waiting in line for the chance to buy a pair of Nike Air Yeezy sneakers. They has been there since Wednesday afternoon and would wait until the sneakers were available on Saturday. That's three days and nights for a pair of sneakers. The young man I spoke to said he was willing to get in line for a $200 pair of sneakers that might be worth $800 in the resale market. He wasn't sure whether he would actually wear them for himself or not. The store manager told me that they had exactly 18 pairs to sell and mercifully sent all but the first 18 back home.

My curiosity peaked, I went to the Nike website to find out more about these particular sneakers. The soles, the ads say, glow in the dark. I learned that this was a limited edition with something like 5000 pairs distributed globally. Here's the first part of the text on their website:

Nike Sportswear and Kanye West present the Nike Air Yeezy.

The shoe, which takes West’s nickname Yeezy, draws upon the innovations from Nike’s rich sporting history and fuses them with original lines, materials, and design elements that reflect West’s unique style.

Partnering with Nike Creative Director, Mark Smith, Kanye was taken through the product creation process, the same way athletes have with Nike Design for the past 37 years," said Smith. “Kanye is a natural designer—partnerships like this always enhance the creative experience and the end product.” West agrees that the partnership with Nike has been exciting. “Nike is such an important brand to me,” said West. “Whether you are on the court, in the street, in the club, at school, Nike represents excellence, the standard in design.”

From the start, West and Nike’s shared vision was clear: to create a modern classic. An original Nike footwear style, that reflects elements of Nike’s sporting past, and remixes them with Nike innovation to deliver a unique shoe.

A careful balance was sought, each time new elements were added, with existing elements being taken away - a design process Smith refers to as “reductionism”. “ Nike shoes need to function and always be innovative,” said Smith. “So the first thing we did was to make sure the design process that Kanye and Nike Design went through, mirrored that of our athletes.”

Being more than a few years older that 30, I had only a vague idea of who Kanye West was. But that he was a shoe designer as well as a rapper surprised me. A few moments of thought should have reminded me that other celebs have also shown similar talents. Just remember the Air Jordan.

One of the classes I was headed for is about the science of persuasion and influence. Nike used many of the "standard" methods according to Robert Gialdini, considered by many to be a leading expert on this subject. Scarcity (limiting the number available) drives people to stand in a real or metaphorical line. Identification with popular icons is another.

Nike prides itself on being green. I copied a few lines from their site.

Nike sees corporate responsibility as an integral part of how we can use the power of our brand, the energy and passion of our people, and the scale of our business to create meaningful change.

Is this offer consistent with this statement of responsibility? Does it "create meaningful change?" I do not think so because it promotes the having mode of living as opposed to being. The marketing strategy emphasizes consumerism for consumerism's sake at the same time our economy is reeling from too much consumption. Thorstein Veblen who invented the concept of conspicuous consumption in 1899 would have jumped to include this as an example. The design of this sneaker was based on something Nike calls reductionism (see above). I think we would be better off if this principle had been followed to the ultimate extreme, reducing the product to no more than an image existing only in the designer's imagination.

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