Which sports shoe brands do you know? Nike? Adidas? Reebok? Right, everybody knows these. But how about “Athletic Propulsion Labs” (APL)?
It’s not unusual if you’ve never heard about this Los Angeles based sports apparel company, as it hasn’t been founded earlier than 2009. Yet, when you Google the company you get nearly 600.000 hits and a few hundred news articles as a result. Quite impressive.
Breaking into the market of multi-billion Dollar companies like Nike and Adidas is not easy, as they have built some quite significant market entry barriers over the years. You need a lot of money to match their advertising spendings, their distribution systems and supply chains are working perfectly all over the world, their products are available in a huge number of variants and matching what is considered to be the needs of the market.
If you want to break into a market like this, you have two options:
1) Compete with the same weapons the established companies are using. In the sports apparel market, this means that you have to bring very, very deep pockets and a lot of stamina.
2) Do something completely different.
Adam and Ryan Goldston did not have unlimited amounts of money, so the 23-year old twins decided to go for option 2). They developed a basketball shoe that is different from all existing ones in one central feature: It makes people jump higher.
For years they’ve worked on a technology that improves vertical leap and finally found one which makes people jump 3 inches higher. In basketball, that’s an awful lot.
Obviously, the NBA had the same feeling and banned the shoes, stating that it would give an “unfair competitive advantage”.
Frankly, I have no idea if this was planned or even targeted by the Goldstons. The marketer’s heart inside me hopes it was, as it would have been a great strategy.
If you want to break into a market in which the common rules are not allowing you to come in, you have to break these rules. Being banned by the NBA should be a disaster for basketball apparel companies, as it closes down one of the most common and successful ways of marketing your product: Making NBA players wear them.
However, I am not aware of any appeal of the Goldstons against the NBA. In contrast, they use the NBA ban as a vehicle for their communications.
On the front page of their website, they feature a huge photo of the shoe in question which theys call “Concept 1”, and a huge red stamp on the photo saying “Banned by the NBA”. They also sell “Banned by the NBA” T-Shirts.
What better support can you have for a new technology than the NBA’s confirmation that it works, i.e. creates a competitive advantage? The buzz has been produced and as one would have expected, sales of the new shoes skyrocketed. APL’s last Twitter update reads like this: “We are currently out of stock in a number of sizes due to our limited production and unprecedented consumer demand”.
A great success, which is based on creativity and guts. If the Goldstons were going by the textbook, they would have never entered the market for basketball shoes. Now, they have probably the hottest product of the season on offer.
Looking at our usual strategic marketing patterns, this case study teaches us that there’s one more dimension when exploring potential new fields of activity. It doesn’t stop when you either find that the market does not offer you enough potential to break in or is too well protected for you to establish yourself. There’s a new question to be asked: What would the potential be if we would change the rules of the market?
Many won’t like this thought as it makes things a lot less calculable and more fuzzy, but isn’t that what marketing is all about? If you could completely calculate the response of your customers and your competitors to your activities, you wouldn’t even need to have a marketing department, marketing could be run by controlling.
The Concept 1 shoe reminds us of how dynamic markets are. It makes the “marketer’s heart” I mentioned before jump. Higher. At least 3 inches.