Shopping for back-to-school also can be both an exhilarating and debilitating experience. While clothing marketers see back-to-school as the second biggest selling season of the year, students know it’s when their wardrobes get refreshed, which is not always an easy endeavor.
Choosing the right shirts, jeans, and sneakers that will get you recognized and not ridiculed can be a difficult thing. However, what if you not only need help picking out your clothes but also putting them on? Such reliance is enough to strip away anyone’s self-esteem, especially an adolescent's.
Entering his junior year of high school, Matthew Walzer needed such help. Because of cerebral palsy, “one of the most common forms of childhood disability,” Walzer only had flexibility in one of his hands, which made it impossible for him to tie his own shoes. The future looked bleak for Walzer, who worried how he’d ever get by in a few years in college—he didn’t want his parents to have to be there to tie his shoes for him.
So, Walzer wrote a letter to Nike CEO Mark Parker and posted it on social media. Nike responded with compassion. Using technology already created for an employee who had suffered a stroke, Nike designer Tobie Hatfield led the development of a new sneaker with “Flyease,” a cutting edge wraparound zipper system. With Flyease, individuals who have limited use of their hands can easily slip their foot in and out of the shoe from the back, thanks to a unique closure system that opens wide like a door.
After putting on the new sneakers for the first time, Walzer said: “I just felt this wave of independence that I never got to experience before.” Nike also surprised Walzer by arranging a meeting with his basketball idol and the new shoe’s namesake, LeBron James.
Nike certainly made one young man very happy and even changed his life. The company and several of its employees showed great empathy and compassion for a teenager with a condition that many others don’t understand, or they even try to avoid. It’s a great thing to meet the needs of persons who our world often neglects. In this sense Nike supported several important societal values.
But, was Nike’s development of Flyease a good marketing move? From a PR perspective it probably was. After three weeks, Nike’s YouTube video featuring Walzer has garnered over 1,046,800 views. Also, a Google search of “Nike Flyease” reveals that the video is being shared frequently across the web.
To stay in business and otherwise satisfy shareholders, however, companies like Nike need to sell sneakers. By that measure, expending considerable resources to produce a single set of shoes seems irrational. However, Nike isn’t producing just one pair of sneakers.
As might be expected, the sporting goods giant has partnered with basketball giant James to mass market Flyease, which is found in the Nike Zoom LeBron Soldier 8 Flyease. The shoe is available on the company’s website in three different color combinations for $130/pair. Knowing Nike, it won’t be long before Flyease can be found in a wide variety of other footwear.
Is there a big enough market, though, for sneakers that swing open from the back? One estimate suggests that over 750,000 U.S. children and adults have cerebral palsy, which affects the body in different ways—some of those with the condition have good use of their hands. (2) There are many other individuals, however, who also might benefit from Flyease technology: people who have suffered strokes, certain injured individuals (e.g., some disabled veterans), those with rheumatoid arthritis, and others with any one of a wide variety of other hand disorders.
Of course, there’s also the condition that affects all of us eventually—old age, which may lessen our manual dexterity for a variety of reasons. Hatfield articulates this eventuality well, stating, “At some point, some people become less able sooner than others. But eventually we all become less able.”
So, although, there may not be a huge market for $130 Flyease LeBron James basketball shoes, there is likely a large untapped market for Flyease footwear in other forms. Nike, therefore, stands poised to generate considerable stakeholder value while upholding important societal values, which creates another case of “Mindful Marketing.”