2019 will mark the 25th anniversary of Supreme and its iconic box logo. The culture-shifting streetwear company places collaborations at the heart of what they do, having developed the ability to generate excitement largely based on influencer associations and brand equity. From working with Tyler, The Creator to A$AP Rocky, being at the forefront of culture has driven Supreme to be extremely relevant amongst Gen Z, an age group which according to Forbes, will be the “largest generation of consumers by the year 2020”. But despite maximising influencer marketing before the term was even coined, scarcity is a powerful driver behind the business of Supreme.
“The scarcity principle: what is limited is highly desirable”
Tactics of automatic influence have been described throughout social psychology for many years. Cialdini (2001) described such phenomena as “click-zoom” reactions in that stimulation from an external source can have a direct influence on our behaviour and decision-making process. When an advert features highly captivating language such as “limited stock”, we are much more inclined to make a purchase due to scarcity. Supreme, along with many other brands including Air Jordan, Mclaren and Yeezy, have perfected the balance between supply and demand; limiting the quantity or access to products whilst attaining as much attention around the brand as possible, and in turn, maximising the scarcity principle: what is limited is highly desirable.
The picture above was not taken on Black Friday but instead occurs whenever Supreme opens the doors for the launch of a new collection. All over the globe, thousands of people line up for hours, sometimes days, with the hopes of getting their hands on a limited edition dog bowl or a pair of Supreme nunchucks. For the large majority, the exclusive items will be sold out before entering the store and many will resort to buying from a third party reseller like stockx.com at markups which seem unprecedented. Limiting the number of products available appears to be a chess move in Supreme’s marketing strategy but by itself does not seem to be enough…
In 1994, James Jebbia launched the first product line and Supreme store in Lower Manhattan for a modest $12,000. Focusing on customer experience and designing the store with skaters in mind, the layout featured all the clothing around the perimeter so that skaters could easily ride in and out of the store. Since then, Supreme has expanded to 11 locations including London, Paris, Tokyo and Los Angeles whilst keeping the skate culture behind the brand alive.
When the store in Los Angeles opened its doors, Tyler, The Creator was a frequent visitor, and after striking up a relationship with the store managers and then Jebbia himself, became influential in Supreme gaining rapid exposure. Through countless mentions in lyrics, wearing the brand in music videos as well as “social media” content, Supreme quickly leveraged the upcoming musician throughout 2011 and grew its cultural relevancy amongst its target audience, creating mass-demand.
In an interview with the Business of Fashion, Jebbia stated “what we do is a mindset” and their strategy truly captures this. Working with artists and collaborators who share their values, Supreme has leveraged influencer marketing since they began and even more in the age of true digital, working with an entourage of artists and influencers including Lady Gaga, Raekwon, Drake & Jason Dill.
“The mere-exposure effect: familiarity breeds preference”
The proliferation of attention brought on by well-known influencers has led to the demand of Supreme increasing astronomically. In a world where attention is fragmented across multiple screens, let alone platforms, the challenge brands face is diversification and not just being present but also being influential on the platforms which are relevant to their audience. My intuition says Supreme truly understands their audience, and by focusing on collaborating with as many highly relevant individuals who have the attention of Gen-Z and beyond, creates a sense of a never disappearing brand.
The multitude of influencers ensures Supremes’ logo appears across multiple screens and platforms which ultimately leads to the mere-exposure effect: familiarity breeds preference. When an entire generation is consistently exposed to a product which is exclusive through being worn by individuals they admire, the ramifications are endless and in turn, have helped Supreme to be valued at over $1 billion.
How to implement the key three learnings
Limited access to clothing has always been understood in the fashion industry and Supreme took this to another level by selling items beyond the scope of fashion. Introducing such a product range which is limited in stock demonstrates the strength of scarcity, especially if the range you introduce is not a “normal” product or what a consumer would expect when shopping with you. Releasing the limited products at each launch of a new collection can bring additional “hype” and a diabolical level of anticipation.
From the offset, Supreme have shown collaboration is key. Throughout their early days, they piggy-backed on luxury fashion brands like Louis Vuitton before receiving a cease and desist and showing us all what is and is not scalable. Their influencer strategy shows the power of people as brands, cherry-picking the right individuals for collaboration and how impactful it can be on business growth in both the short and long term. The key here is to make sure the influencers’ audience is truly your target customer.
29 Rare Supreme Items That Only Hardcore Collectors Actually Own. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.capitalfm.com/features/weirdest-supreme-items/
Fromm, J. (2018). How Much Financial Influence Does Gen Z Have?. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jefffromm/2018/01/10/what-you-need-to-know-about-the-financial-impact-of-gen-z-influence/#20bdb0bb56fc
Grant, N., Deleon, J., & Johnson, N. (2018). 50 Things You Didn‘t Know About Supreme. Retrieved from https://www.complex.com/style/2013/03/50-things-you-didnt-know-about-supreme/supreme-is-set-to-open-a-european-webshop-at-the-end-of-this-year
McCloskey, C. (2012). Tyler, the Creator and Glenn O’Brien Interview on Supreme — GQ 100 April 2012 Style Bible. Retrieved from https://www.gq.com/story/tyler-the-creator-glenn-obrien-supreme-clothes-gq-style-bible-april-2012-photos
The Story Behind Supreme Clothing; Small Beginnings. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PAWVuTc5LY