How Adidas Yeezy’s placement strategy works

In tenth grade, I learned about the 4 P’s of Marketing in business class: product, placement, price, and promotion. I’ve long considered product and promotion the most important pieces; in recent years, I’ve come to appreciate the power of price. Today, I want to write about placement and why it’s fascinating:

There’s a tension that a brand like Yeezy faces. On one hand, it aspires to be accessible and premium, likening itself to Apple. On the other hand, it needs to preserve its exclusivity and desirability in order to keep customers and partners interested. It’s a delicate balance; when Jordan brand briefly made its shoes too accessible in 2018, people grew disinterested for a period of time

Ordinarily, a business would simply increase the prices of its products, but that takes away from Yeezy’s mission. So, instead, Yeezy chooses to play with placement.

Adidas Yeezy shoes are, unequivocally, difficult to purchase. This is a source of frustration for even the most hardcore fans:

Hell, it’s even tough for Ye’s former in-laws to purchase:

Still, it’s a problem that money can solve. The affluent can purchase them for a marked up price. Some people can set up (or pay for?) bots that make purchases on their behalf.

In my case, I finally decided to take the plunge. Earlier this year, I bought a Yeezy Gap puffer jacket, which was available to everyone, but only for a limited window of time and with a weeks-long waiting period. That’s a lifetime in the world of Amazon Prime.

Still, that was a walk in the park compared to trying to buy Adidas Yeezy sneakers. You can buy them at a very reasonable price on the Confirmed app, but having heard all of the pains and frustrations with it, I wasn’t interested. So I tried StockX instead. 

StockX itself is actually pretty difficult to use; I ran into problems confirming my address, validating my credit card, and so on. After browsing the shoes multiple times at the site, it took three separate sessions before I could actually make the purchase.

I’ve worked as the deputy editor at Shopify Plus, and I can safely tell you this is the complete opposite of a typical ecommerce experience, in which any additional friction is not desirable. In most ecommerce experiences, the customer should be able to check out in as few steps as possible; that’s one click-to-buy and Buy Now buttons are so popular.

Instead, this frustration and friction was exactly the intention behind Adidas Yeezy’s flawed, frustrating, and convoluted placement of its Yeezy sneakers. Some things worth noting:

1. The IKEA effect

There’s a notion that putting effort into building something yourself makes you like it more. This paper suggests that’s the case with IKEA and Lego; you went through the hard work of assembling the furniture, and it’s more awesome because of that. Perhaps one of Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence—consistency—comes to mind.

There’s something similar with Adidas Yeezy—you’ve gone through all of the efforts, all of the failures, and all of the extra time and money costs—to acquire these shoes. It must’ve been worth it. The shoes, then, become more desirable to you when you finally get them.

2. Alienate casual fans

Only the most hardcore Yeezy fans—and they might not be fans of Ye, the artist!—will understand each other. They most hardcore ones are practically part of a religion. Some people actually prefer waiting in line; that’s the whole point.

In The Luxury Strategy, Jean-Noël Kapferer and Vincent Bastien write, “When it comes to luxury, trying to make a brand more relevant is to dilute its value, because not only does the brand lose some of its unique features, but also its wider availability erodes the dream potential among the elite, among leaders of opinion.” Kapferer and Bastien highlight BMW as an example.

The key to growing, in this case, is to expand internationally and to create new product lines. Which is perfect for Yeezy’s current strategy; Adidas Yeezy sneakers are different from Yeezy Gap merchandise, which is different from the Stem Player, Yeezy merch at concerts, and so on.

3. Buying from scalpers

Most people buy things from official stores. It’s unusual to buy products unofficially, but that’s one of the most convenient ways to buy Yeezys. This creates an interesting dynamic:

  • A reseller can price their products at whatever they like; if you pay a lot for it, the reseller eats the profit, not Adidas or Yeezy. Prices are often marked up, which makes it less affordable, but the buyers and visitors understand that’s not because of Adidas or Yeezy.
  • Resellers work hard to actually get the products; they develop an expertise for acquiring exclusive sneakers. They may become hardcore fans along the way. I’m struggling to find the source; I believe I read that a fair amount of attendees at Ye’s recent listening parties were resellers looking to make a purchase.
  • Think about the other things that you buy from resellers: rare, vintage items, concert tickets—the purchase experience makes you liken it to that.

4. Variable rewards

There’s a fair amount of luck and lottery involved in buying Yeezys. One day you might get chosen, the next you might not. That’s the variable reward method at work, which makes buying Yeezys more exciting and addictive.

5. Counterfeits are rampant

Because Yeezys are so difficult to buy, and still remain desirable, people are interested in buying counterfeits. There’s no shortage of fake Yeezys, which you can buy for cheap. Ye has signed a pair for a fan.

You’re not a premium or luxury product until people start ripping you off; then you have something to compare and contrast the original against. There’s actually a whole shanzhai Yeezy store in China (commenters have noted that they prefer the fake colorways and designs):

For more on how Yeezy navigates marketing and creativity, check out The Yeezy Way.

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