It’s been said first impression are the most lasting. That’s what some brands were aiming for with their debut at the 4th annual ComplexCon, held Nov. 2-3, in Long Beach, Calif.
The convention likens itself to “the Pop Culture Super Bowl” — with celebrity appearances, concerts, panels on social issues and exclusive sneaker releases as part of the draw. Last year, around 150,000 attendees were logged, which is an impressive, fast-growing number compared to the estimated 30,000 in its inaugural year.
Reebok, Puma and more familiar brand names have upped the ante each year with immersive activations. The former erected an ice cream shop (minus the calories) that served its collaboration with Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club, sold exclusively at the event. The sneakers were scooped up en masse.
In fact, the collection’s AnswerV sneaker sold out to VIP ticket-holders 1 hour before general admissions guests swarmed the convention floor. Pharrell himself caused a frenzy when he roamed around the booth and posed for photos with fans. Meanwhile, Puma welcomed attendees to “Futro Land” — a neon-lit arcade with its merchandise for sale.
“This is where you show up and put your best work on display,” said K-Swiss president Barney Waters. The brand tapped longtime collaborator Gary Vaynerchuk, VaynerMedia CEO, to debut his new sneaker — done in the same dusky coral tone that matched its booth. The social media star was feted by fans who purchased his 005 shoe and received a meet and greet as part of the package.
“It’s almost like an important moment in the relationship we had with Gary V,” Waters said. The differentiation between K-Swiss and competitors that brought traditional celebrities like athletes and entertainers was a success — to the tune of 50,000 pairs sold. “It’s another ComplexCon, but it’s this sort of moment where it’s finally validated everything we originally thought,” Waters added.
It’s not only sportswear brands that create buzz. Sneaker Lab, which produces environmentally-friendly sneaker cleaning products, held an activation in partnership with Old Spice for its first time at the Long Beach convention. “I think it’s a perfect partner,” said Paul Baclawsi, Sneaker Lab director of marketing. “It’s a great way for Old Spice to enter into the sneaker world and it’s a great way for us to partner up and show what we can do to this consumer.”
Founded in South Africa, the brand began operations in the U.S. 3 years ago in downtown Los Angeles, where it offers its products for sale as well as cleaning services. By collaborating with a familiar name, it helped Sneaker Lab catch the attention of attendees with an immersive spa-like experience — fancy robes and all.
“It gets them to experience the brand. Our brand has a hard message: it’s environmentally friendly. It’s a hard message to get across, especially with today’s noise,” Baclawsi explained. “We get them to sit down and we clean their shoes and they see that is works.” Baclawsi added that Sneaker Lab took part in ComplexCon’s smaller Chicago convention last July, which proved to be a good testing ground for a bigger entry this time around.
Of course, the stakes are high on the fast-paced convention floor — where long lines and short attention spans are plentiful. Rapper 21 Savage, who has collaborated with Timberland and starred in Adidas campaigns, joined with Tequila Avión to parachute merchandise to fans from an elevated booth. Fellow rapper Tyga debuted his sneaker collaboration with Von Dutch and signed merchandise for fans at the brand’s booth. Some names on the showroom floor were Offset, Lil Pump, Tinashe, Chuck D, NFL athletes Todd Gurley and Marshawn Lynch. Other ComplexCon guests included Usher, Selena Gomez, Yara Shahidi, Kid Cudi, Eve and Timothy Chalamet.