Jordan Hybrids: Do You Know?!
We live in a world where nothing is really new. For every new product, it has a product it evolved from. That shouldn’t be taken as a negative thought but as an indication as to how much is available to us. For that exact reason, branding has become so important and so vital to the life of a product.
The concept of major products being offered commercially is still relatively new in terms of the age of civilization. There are not too many companies over the age of 50, and only a few are 100 years old or more. When you take those years into footwear companies, Nike is 50 years old, adidas is 65 years old, Puma is 90, and New Balance is 108 years old.
But that doesn’t mean the athletic industry, an industry worth over $100 billion, is as old as those companies because mass-produced shoes didn’t really start until the ’70s when the running boom took off and people started wearing athletic shoes casually. And it really exploded in the late ‘80s with basketball shoes, in particular the Air Jordan.
The Air Jordan started in 1984, and we have had a new Air Jordan every year since. In 1997, Nike determined that the brand that Michael built could live outside of Nike. Thus forming Jordan Brand, a subsidiary of The Swoosh. That brand has grown to become 58% of all of the basketball market. When combined with Nike, The Swoosh owns nearly 97% of the basketball market.
What’s been interesting about Nike, and in particular the Jordan Brand, is we are in an age of commercialism with two clear groups of consumers: those that grew up with Michael Jordan, and those that didn’t. Both groups are heavily invested in the brand that Michael built, as the phrase synonymous with both consumers is “Quality Products Inspired by The Greatest Athlete Ever”.
What’s interesting is how the Jordan Brand targets both customers at the same time.
As the brand has expanded, it has moved to cover all price-points. The reality is that the number of consumers that buy actual Air Jordan and retro Air Jordan shoes is quite small. Those prices just don’t work for the majority.
But they do create an aspiration for consumers to reach to. They may not have the flagship product, but they still are a part of the brand when they purchase the shoes at the price-point they are comfortable with. And no matter what the price is, they can say they have a pair of Jordans on their feet. That’s an accomplishment in itself to most people.
An avenue that the brand has had great success in is building their identity and sharing their history within legacy product — better known as hybrid.
?h??brid – of mixed character; composed of mixed parts
By taking elements of the past and reimagining them, Jordan has managed to communicate a message that is emotionally satisfying and also educational. The consumers that grew up with the brand and the ones that grew into the brand both come together on hybrid products.
The difference is the consumer that grew up with Jordan will always relate to the patterns and lines that relate to their youth, while the consumer that grew into Jordan gets an aesthetic that they know little about but were inspired by visually. They may not know the exact reference of the Jordan it was inspired by, but they can learn it. Which gives them a chance to further invest in the brand.
What has really helped the brand in their hybrid product is separating the literal from the inspired-by. Shoes in the past like the Spizike or the Son of Mars are very literal in their approach to the heritage of the line. They draw a clear visual as to what their intention is: honor the classic silhouettes within a new style.
Examples of this would be the Flight 9.5. One would anticipate it to be based off of the Jordan 9, but it could be taken as a Jordan 4 in certain angles. The 6-17-23 is a hybrid in the truest form, as it blends the Air Jordan 6 and the 17, which added up, equals 23. Pretty clever.
More recently the brand has taken a new turn with their hybrids by being less literal and letting the design speak for itself as opposed to relying on a repetitive aesthetic that is extremely familiar but not quite the same.
Right now, the brand is having a very successful run with the performance side of shoes that could be considered heavily inspired by iconic Jordans but don’t rely on those iconic models to sell it for them.
The True Flight, which is clearly inspired by the Air Jordan 7, is a serious performance contender. As opposed to just using the sole unit from the iconic 7, it updates the forms to create outriggers from the triangle highlights on the sidewall. Which to me is a nice way to pay homage and updates the shoe to current performance levels.
Another example that is succeeding is the Prime Flight. Which updates the simple clean lines of the 10 and its elastic lace webbing with Dynamic Flywire while still maintaining the clean lines of the classic silhouette.
From a classic standpoint the Melo 1.5 might be the best performance-inspired shoe the Jordan Brand ever created. It took everything that was great about the Air Jordan 1 and brought it to a modern court. It was done so well that if you aren’t into Jordans and sneakers in general, you will still see the 1.5 as a great looking shoe. The details are so good and align perfectly with where hybrid products should be.
The most recent example of hybrid product being executed at a very, very high level is the Jordan Future. While it has a lifestyle approach, it takes what may be the most iconic sole unit ever in the Air Jordan 11 and then merges it with a brand new woven upper.
The key to the success of the Jordan Future is how clean it is.
It isn’t over done, and it isn’t overbearing. It lets what is perfect about the shoe — the iconic sole unit and the technical aspect of the upper — be celebrated. There is no guessing what makes the shoe significant, and the two elements balance each other perfectly.
While those are great examples of what a hybrid can do for the legacy of the brand and how it can share the history with consumers, both new and old, it’s what the future holds for Jordan hybrids that excites me. The Future Flight Remix and the Flight Time 14.5 are great examples of where the hybrid is going and should be going.
They balance function, aesthetic and history to create an all-new shoe that is fresh and doesn’t rely on the past too much. In fact, if the shoes didn’t mention the predecessors that inspired it, I don’t think that consumers would associate it with those models. Which is a good thing.
Going forward, I think the Jordan Brand has to take the approach of being inspired by their past to carry their branding forward, not be so literal in their take, and allow the product to breathe. They should set an image of the Future on their desk every time they are drawing a new hybrid. And then, once the shoe is finished, they should disallow marketing to mention any of the iconic Air Jordans that inspired it.
Let that hybrid breathe!
Other posts by Brett Golliff:
- I’m Opting Out
- Retro Deep Dive – Penny
- Penny, Penny, Penny: Why Are You Still Great After All These Years?