Nike’s latest craze…Socks

You might be wondering why I would ever consider writing about such a staid product like socks. Walk around any school yard these days and you’ll quickly realize that the days of the basic white tube socks are gone. As a father of two 9 year olds, we are seeing first-hand the craze of the Nike Elite basketball sock. (Disclaimer: as the former GM of Nike’s Equipment division, socks was one of my largest product categories. Yet, I can take little credit for this recent success) Selling for a whopping $16/pair, my kids must have an equivalent of 1-2 pairs of shoes worth of socks in their drawer, in all colors imaginable.  While Nike created this newest craze, many other brands in the sporting goods industry are capitalizing on the trend and achieving 25% – 40% sales growth. So, what’s behind this phenomenen?

Understand the athlete/consumers need – the creation of the Elite sock centered around USA basketball during the ’08 Olympics. Like Nike often does, even for socks, it worked with elite athletes to understand what issues they were having with their current socks and developed a softer, yet still durable, basketball sock. The days of wearing two pairs of socks, like I did as a kid, were gone.

Stories sell – rather than just putting some white socks on the retail floor, the Elite sock was seeded to multiple basketball clubs and the product creation story told. Kids could not only “be like Mike” with the shoes they wore, but also now with their socks.  Nike also created a broad assortment of color to fit most any team uniform, allowing kids to “be AND look like Mike.”

Even Commodities can get Hot – just as Starbucks has gotten consumers to trade up from their old cup of coffee, Nike touched on consumers willingness to trade up for some of  the smaller things in life. $16 for one pair of socks seems crazy when one can buy a 10 pack at Wal-Mart for $10.  Yet, you can also look it the other way and justify that for ONLY $16, one can treat their feet to a small pleasure in life.

So the next time you just throw on a pair of socks, remember that even the most simple and utilitarian products can be made sexy and become a trend. I wonder what’s going to be next?

For more info, here’s a recent article from counterkicks.

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