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With Digital Extras, Sneaker Makers Think Outside the Box

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Taking their cue  from cereal makers like Kellogg and General Mills and Cracker Jack, which pioneered the idea in 1911, sneaker makers are including a little something extra in their shoe boxes.

Adidas, Nike, Reebok and New Balance have all recently started including in-box codes and other methods that let consumers get an experience that goes beyond wearing their new shoes. Adidas is the latest to jump on the trend. On Feb. 10, Adidas Originals sneakers will include a code that lets consumers partake in an augmented reality program.

The Adidas initiative, via agency Sid Lee and Metaio, which developed the AR component, centers on a virtual neighborhood that the footwear maker created as part of its brand identity and ongoing campaign themed “celebrating originality.” Five sneaker models (Superstar, Stan Smith, Samba, Nizza and Forum) with an AR code printed on the tongue will hit exclusive retailers Champs Sports and Eastbay.com starting next month. By holding the code in front of a Webcam, consumers will be able to access the virtual neighborhood and interactive games (created by Xform) at adidas.com/originals.

The move is part of a scheme by Adidas Originals to use technology to help sneaker lovers form an emotional connection with the brand, said Chris Barbour, head of digital marketing for Adidas Originals. “We think we’re ahead of the curve by using AR in a way that hasn’t been used before—by tying it to a commercial product and online gaming,” Barbour said. “This is about giving consumers an additional benefit.”

AR is just one model used to bridge the physical and digital worlds. Matt Powell, a “sneakerologist” at Princeton Retail Analysis, said he hasn’t seen anything similar in retail, and the impetus for the activity is likely Nike+, a “digital experience” that the athletic brand introduced with interactive agency R/GA in 2006.

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