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Mar 22 2011

Contagious - Sneakerpedia: Enthusiasm Beyond Reason


Sneaker fans will be able to participate in a wiki of kicks from 4 April, courtesy of Foot Locker

By Lucy Aitken

'Warning: if you're a sneaker freak and you join Sneakerpedia, it will deepen your obsession.' So ends an invite from a recruitment film created by Foot Locker's agency SapientNitro in London seeking contributors to the world's first footwear almanac,

The concept (featured on this issue's front cover) is intended to unite the world's most ardent sneaker fanatics and their collections into one gloriously comprehensive hub. Sneakerpedia will offer the kind of forensic detail on each shoe's history and subtle variations that particularly excites the discerning expert. Details will even include photos of the box in which particular shoes were carefully carried home on day of purchase which, as Malcolm Poynton, chief creative officer, Europe, of SapientNitro, points out, can often be as fastidiously stored as the shoes themselves. Hence the box is a recurrent theme in the graphic interface of the site.

Sneakerpedia the idea was born after SapientNitro discovered that the essence of Foot Locker brand is 'enthusiasm beyond reason', and a quick tour of Foot Locker's main Facebook page confirms this sentiment is still very much alive and kicking harder than ever. From Foot Locker Europe (137,000 Likes): 'Sneakers are our life... the only thing we like as much as the sneakers, is other people who like sneakers too.' Or a romantically themed post from Foot Locker US (954,000 Likes): 'Don't forget to pick something up for your girl (or guy) for Valentine's Day. Sneaks last longer than flowers or candy.'

Yet 'enthusiasm beyond reason' had become buried over the years. Sneakerpedia is a conscious effort by the retailer to reinstall it. As Poynton says: 'If you're genuinely enthusiastic as a brand, you need to share that with people. There has to be more to creating a competitive advantage than messaging.'

A community space

Just as with Wikipedia, users will be able to search and add to existing content, building up information and constantly improving the resource. Contributing is straightforward: users can photograph, upload and tag, name and share history. However, Foot Locker is keen to stress that it is 'a community space, not a marketplace, run by sneakerheads, for sneakerheads'.

This is an essential part of Sneakerpedia's DNA. Sure, it's a Foot Locker initiative because the global retailer clearly wants its 4,000 stores across 21 countries to be the first port of call for people buying trainers, thus maintaining its status as one of the world's leading sports fashion retailers. But as Poynton observes: 'This is a gift from Foot Locker to the global sneaker community. We're not running it; it's a space for them and we're really proud to offer it. In return, we get the benefit of understanding that community better and can then stock more sneakers that more people like. We are transparent about that, and that will make the return on investment better for us. We're not hiding or apologising for that commercial benefit.'

Built from the feet up

It's interesting that Sneakerpedia decided to build something from scratch. It could have decided to partner an existing community space or blog that already has an established following, for instance, Brooklyn-based which, in addition to its popular blog, has more than 70,000 Facebook Likes and 25,000 Twitter followers.

Yet despite the trend for brands to piggyback existing digital infrastructures such as Facebook (see article on page 24), it makes  strategic sense for Foot Locker to go it alone. Differentiating Sneakerpedia from the likes of showcases it as novel idea that fits the brand's modern but mainstream appeal. Here, the brand plays the role of benefactor and connector, engaging in an iterative project rather than a traditional (closed loop) marketing campaign.

That's not to suggest that social media haven't been playing key supporting roles, however. A four-strong team at SapientNitro is dedicated to building a conversation with the community, two creatives are in charge of content while two planners lead the social media strategy. Poynton explains: 'Increasingly contemporary brands appreciate that you get more connection with consumers through a conversation than through sporadic messaging. If you can create a space and a place where people congregate and converse about shared interests, that's got to be better for a brand than the blunt instrument of just messaging people... that's the premise on which this is built.'

Sneakers and sounds

The site launched in beta at the end of 2010 with a select group of collectors contributing. From 4 April 2011, it will cast its net far and wide, urging sneakerheads across the globe to get involved. Looking further into the future, there are plans to maximise the relationship between sneakers and music: SapientNitro is already in talks with two major record labels about how the community could work as a platform for their artists. Poynton says: 'Music distribution is difficult,so labels are keen to find new channels. As people cluster around sneaker styles which also tend to relate to musical genres, for instance, Converse and indie kids, you can see how tightly sneakers, fashion and music are interwoven.'

An ambitious build

Having seen so many brands invest so much in destination websites that were largely ignored, and then flock to Facebook and other social media platforms to go where their customers are, it's interesting to watch Foot Locker take the plunge with such an ambitious build. However, with no shortage of sneaker obsessives on the planet, expect Sneakerpedia to be a destination community where photos, details, anecdotes and, above all, boundless enthusiasm are shared.

And one last, but not insignificant observation about Sneakerpedia: the name is a surefire hit. Many other brands' attempts at creating more community-led social sites based on participation have fallen at the first hurdle when it comes to the christening (Saturn's ImSaturn and BA's Metrowin to name but two). But Sneakerpedia feels like a perfect fit.

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    Chief Communications Officer



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