The Air Jordans Were to Die For

Nike’s Air Jordan’s was a brilliant franchise and the shoes were to die for.

Nike’s Air Jordan campaign is known as one of the most profitable markets in the history of marketing. As Michael Jordan’s career progressed, so did the sales and status of his product, Air Jordan. The status of one to get their hands on a pair of Air Jordans was so powerful that his shoes were to die for, which created a frenzy that was unparalleled to any other product sold in the market.

In 1985, Nike unleashed its new product, which was a pair of basketball shoes. The product was branded by NBA All-star Michael Jordan, who came off an impressive rookie season. Jordan was best known for his ability to soar through the air and perform spectacular dunks. Therefore his shoes embraced the name of his most notable talent, as the product was called Air Jordan. Today, even 28 years later, Air Jordan’s remain as a relevant product worthy to consumers.

In 2011, the Air Jordan XI was released on Black Friday. Spokesperson for Nike’s Jordan brand, Brian Facchini, feared the reissue of the once popular product. “Consumer safety and security is of paramount importance,” Facchini said. “We encourage anyone wishing to purchase our product to do so in a respectful and safe manner.”

However, his message didn’t bring the frenzy down one notch. In Seattle, it was reported that the police used pepper spray on 20 individuals to break up a fight. At an Indianapolis shopping mall, consumers racing to get the product consequently ripped the hinges off of the door. A brawl broke out in New Jersey as a result a man was stabbed.

Those events demonstrate the value Air Jordan’s have on consumers. The Jordan’s XI was the same pair of shoes that Jordan wore when he won an NBA championship and named All-Star MVP, NBA MVP, and NBA Finals MVP. His achievements are something that consumers associate with his shoes and that’s the reason why the demand of the product was so high.

The status of the product was heightened as time went on because of the success in Jordan’s career, which led to more advertisements and promotion. Jordan’s label as a “legend” that “changed the game” is the reason why the product continues to sell, and unfortunately it still brings mayhem, long after his retirement.

In the late 80s, filmmaker Spike Lee collaborated with Jordan to create the “Mars Blackmon” campaign. Lee portrayed a character, Blackmon, from his film She’s Gotta Have It (1986); his character aspired to be Jordan and wore a pair of Air Jordan’s throughout the film. In the film, Blackmon was a popular guy in the neighborhood because he was able to keep up with the latest trends, and off course he had the latest pair of Air Jordan’s.

The first commercial in the Blackmon/Jordan era was titled “It’s Gotta be the Shoes.” Blackmon continued to ask Jordan what gives him the ability to be a great basketball player, Lee eventually says “It’s gotta be the shoes.” Lee’s slogan “It’s gotta be the shoes” gave consumers the idea that the magic of Jordan’s performance was in the shoes. That added to the demand of the product, as consumers felt the shoes would make them “Like Mike.”

From that point on, the Michael Jordan/Mars Blackmon era of marketing took off and created one of the biggest promotions of all time, through both television commercials and print advertising. Lee in an interview titled “My First Big Break” spoke of the impact of the Jordan/Mars Blackmon campaign. “The commercial I did with Michael Jordan ended up being… one of the greatest campaigns ever in the history of advertising, and Nike took off,” Lee said.

In author Erin Patton’s book, Under the Influence (2009), he explained the role Air Jordans played in his childhood. Patton grew up in an urban area and he learned early in his childhood that keeping up with the latest trends in pop culture was important for his social status. “If you didn’t have the latest, you’d be ridiculed. And boy, did it get tougher and tougher to keep up. The brands moved swiftly from Adidas sneakers to Air Jordans,” Patton wrote.

According to Patton, Air Jordans would make anyone fit-in in the urban community. “[Jordan’s] product held a unique brand position… inner-city kids who might never touch a basketball court but will spend $150 for a new pair of Air Jordans for lifestyle reasons and wear them as a badge of status and self-validation,” he added. Air Jordans were simply more than basketball shoes, and his market extended beyond basketball fans. It was a part of pop culture and was a relevant product to all in the urban community because of the trend it set.

“Like most inner-city kids, I looked up to MJ (Michael Jordan) because of his skills and his style, which made baggy shorts required for all and a bald head desirable even for those without incipient hair loss,” Patton recorded. Jordan’s style influenced his fans because people in the urban community wanted to be him. Therefore they tried their best to look like him and emulate his style. Obviously, the Air Jordans played a huge role in that because it was the sneakers Jordan wore, and from the ads the magic was all in the shoes.

Patton explained that Jordan’s fan base was strong in the inner-city because it held a worldwide value. He elaborated by explaining that trends in the suburban areas come from the urban and eventually that leads to the mass media. Jordan’s consumers were so passionate about the product it created a frenzy. On the release dates numerous things would occur, acts of riots would breakout, students skipped school and gang members targeted people who brought the newest pair.

Nick DePaula, in an article titled “Ads, violence, and values”, explained the effect that materials played with teenagers. “Certain apparel would still be “in” with teens, and some youngsters would still break the law — even kill — to acquire those things,” DePaula recorded. Jordan’s brand held such a status to teens that they would kill for his shoes. Only a product like Air Jordan’s would take someone over the edge to break their morals because the status it built was above any other brand.

At an age where teenagers are typically arrogant and feel that the most important thing in life is their social status; a pair of Air Jordans would help anyone reach the highest status above and beyond anyone else who didn’t own a pair. By owning a pair of Air Jordans they would also avoid being ridiculed by their peers. That itself was enough for one to kill over a product.

The Jordan brand was larger than life because of all of the baggage that came along with it. Air Jordans was more than just a pair of shoes, it was symbolic of something greater. The social status that people associated with Air Jordans created a craving desire for consumers to get their hands on this item. Consumers went through extreme measures to purchase the newest pair of Air Jordan’s, because the satisfaction one would get was to die for.

Air Jordans still to this day remains as a relevant product to consumers and that’s because of Jordan’s status as a legend. His legendary status is why his brand has preceded his career and has even expanded to Hanes. After all, the brand is still a sensation because it’s modeled after a legend, and like all legends, his name is eternal.

By Gino Terrell

This story was originally published in SportsFeedia July, 12, 2013.


Gino Terrell is the Director of Content at Hidden Valley Culture Blog/In-Depth section. Terrell covered local artists and reviewed mainstream shows in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area under the Twin Cities Daily Planet (2014-15). He also freelanced for MinnPost and interned at Pioneer Press, KSTP TV (the Minneapolis ABC News Affiliate) and American Public Media Group. He's accumulated over 30 awards from the Associated Collegiate Press, Society of Professional Journalists and National Association of Black Journalists and founded award winning student-magazine Pipers In-Depth at Hamline University (St. Paul, Minnesota). He was once the sports editor for the school newspaper, The Oracle. Follow him on Twitter: @Gin026

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