The Road to Brandweek: Vans’ Nick Street on Fostering Creativity in Customers

What the sneaker brand's 'Off the Wall' slogan means in real life

Nick Street vans
"We want our consumers to rally around the idea that creativity is an essential part of being human," says Nick Street of Vans. Courtesy of Vans
Headshot of Robert Klara

Describing a marketing vice president as “off the wall” would, in most cases, be something of an insult—but not when it comes to Nick Street. For the past three years, Street has led global integrated marketing efforts for Vans, the athletic shoe that somehow manages the competing tasks of being a legacy brand and the coolest thing on the sidewalk. “Off the Wall” began as a descriptor for SoCal boys doing aerials off the sides of empty swimming pools but has become a mantra for the company.

And what does it mean, exactly? Aware that the shoes have drawn an audience well beyond skateboarders, Vans has broadened its “Off the Wall” doctrine to embrace anyone who cultivates his or her individuality, taking pride in living a little differently than the conforming horde. That’s an attractive message, especially for the youth market. But for the marketer, it’s also a challenge when it comes to defining the brand and keeping it fresh and relatable.

At our annual Brandweek event, which takes place Nov. 3-6 in Palm Springs, Calif., Street will share the challenges of his work—and its rewards. After all, Vans notched 24% revenue growth last year and continues to be a marquee name in the apparel portfolio of VF Corporation. He found a few minutes to sit down with Adweek to talk a little about his material, and about doing global marketing for one of the world’s most popular apparel brands.

Can you give us a little teaser of what you plan to talk about at Brandweek?
Nick Street:
As Vans was founded on the belief that we are not a shoe company but a people company, I’ll be talking about how our purpose is to enable creative self-expression and will aim to highlight how we do this through the lens of our ‘Off The Wall’ brand ethos. I’ll be showing how we build a lifetime of Vans Fans with newcomers, fandoms and loyalists alike by creating meaningful interactions and building deep connections with our consumers, be it through our grassroots interactions, experiential marketing efforts or our in-store experiences.

Furthermore, we don’t just talk about creative expression—we actively enable it through products, platforms and campaigns that pivot on being globally consistent with local relevancy in order to engage and inspire global creative communities. At Brandweek, I’ll uncover some of these initiatives like Vans Checkerboard Day, Global Custom Culture, Vans Park Series, House of Vans, Vans Gives Back, Skate Clinics, Share the Stage and Musicians Wanted.

What’s the biggest buzzword in the industry today, and what does it specifically mean for your brand?
Consumer-centric. I hear that a lot across our industry. For us, it’s really about how we build deep consumer connectivity and how we engage one-on-one with our consumers. A good example is our presence on social media. We’re well liked on our social channels, which is great for brand awareness, but what we really care about is the engagement that we’re driving with events offline. We want to show up where our consumers are, in the real world, and care about the experiences our Vans Fans have during these strong tie activations, which then drive strong content as a result.

Name one important thing about your brand that you wish more consumers knew.
Yes, we are a footwear and apparel company—but more importantly, we want consumers to know we are passionate about enabling creative expression and see ourselves as the vehicle through which you can express yourself. We want our consumers to rally around the idea that creativity is an essential part of being human, and that everyone should be able to express themselves creatively.

Our recently announced Vans Checkerboard Day is a great example of how we are bringing this to life. On Nov. 21 this year, Vans will donate $1 million from global sales generated through our retail locations and to our 2019 charity partner, to further inspire creativity in youth around the world. Vans Checkerboard Day is an opportunity for us to put a stake in the ground and rally our internal team, out extended Vans family and fans around the world to come together to make a difference in the lives of our youth. Fans will have the opportunity to participate in global Checkerboard Day activations, events and brand touch points to connect local communities to Vans brand mission.

What’s the biggest change that your company or your industry has had to contend with in the last two years?
The role and rise of the influencer. Many brands rely on influencers for validation and authenticity. We’ve always been grounded in staying true to who we are, but love giving our consumers, athletes, artists and partners a voice to share our reason for being and to help deliver on our brand promise.

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@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.