Air Jordans, Marketing and Lost Minds

The limited production and hyped-up release of new Jordan sneakers drove crowds wild.

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The scenes were reminiscent of the worst Black Friday incidents: Shoppers lining up for hours and breaking through doors. Folks suffering injuries from being trampled or punched. Police resorting to pepper spray to subdue unruly crowds.

Except this wasn't Black Friday. It was an Air Jordans-release Friday, and it prompted an outbreak of madness, mayhem and melees across the country.

The Jordan XI Concords are replicas of the shoes Michael Jordan wore when he returned to the NBA in 1995 after his one-year hiatus as a minor-league baseball player. Retailing for $180 for men (lower prices for children and -- yes -- toddlers), the white shoes with the black patent leather surrounding the bottom revolutionized the sneaker industry.

But they're still just sneakers, no matter how much status is misguidedly attached to them.

The craziness surrounding Air Jordans seemed to die down in recent years -- nothing compared to the danger of purchasing and/or wearing early versions of the shoe, created in 1985. There were reports of muggings and even murder by miscreants who wanted a pair without having to purchase them.

Unfortunately, the sense of "anything goes" has seemingly returned. While a Friday murder over the shoes in the Washington, D.C., area has been rumored but not confirmed, no one will be surprised if such a crime does occur.

Based on accounts from Georgia (where a mother reportedly left her toddlers in the car while purchasing the shoes) to California (where the crowd was turned away after a gunshot rang out) to New Jersey (where police arrested a group of five that snatched three pairs of shoes from shoppers and drove off), the wildness has just begun.

Nike, which makes an estimated $1 billion annually on Air Jordans, helped create the frenzy by suggesting that the shoes would be in limited supply. In a pre-release statement, the company said, "Tinker made it shine. Mike made it fly. You made it iconic. Jordan 11s only come around once a year, so don’t miss this highly anticipated release."

Spokesmen from the company were hard to find Friday as news from malls and other outlets poured in. But we already know what they'll say: that they condemn any violence associated with their products and urge fans to increase the peace.

Nike is great at marketing and promoting its products, but we can't blame the company if folks respond by acting like fools. That's a look-in-the-mirror problem -- but not looking down at what's on your feet. Looking straight ahead at what's in your mind.