With Digital Extras, Sneaker Makers Think Outside the Box

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.

Nike+, which wirelessly links a sensor in the shoe to Apple iPods and iPhones to track workout data, requires the purchase of an additional kit. However, in October, Nike started including a digital extra in some of its shoes as well.

As part of that program, called Soccer +, the brand introduced its first boot, the CTR360 Maestri, which contains an in-box code that unlocks tutorials from some of the world’s best players like Cesc Fabregas and teams like FC Barcelona. The code isn’t embedded in the shoe but instead comes on a card inside each box.

The T90 Laser III is the latest Nike boot to be released with this feature, which lets consumers access training drills by Spanish soccer star Fernando Torres.

“The idea behind Nike Soccer+ is that not only are you playing in pro-level boots, but you’re also getting pro-level training. Each drill for each boot is different,” said Nike rep Tim Yu, adding that the brand will soon introduce a new set of training drills with the next boot launch in a few months.

Then there are New Balance and Reebok. New Balance last year ran a campaign promoting a limited release of its 574 Clips running shoes. Only 480 pairs were made, and each came with a Polaroid containing a five-digit code that buyers could use to “claim” their shoe online. Around the same time, Reebok partnered with hip-hop artists and launched its Classic Remix Collection exclusively at Foot Locker. Those who purchased a pair of the new sneakers received a code for downloading a free track online.

These efforts represent a shift in how footwear brands engage with consumers, much like they used when seeking feedback on flyer cards found inside packaging, said Matt Halfhill, founder of NiceKicks.com, a sneaker industry news blog. He added, “It’s a quick and simple way to reach [sneakerheads] where they’re already spending a lot of time—first at the store level and then online.”