Sneaker companies spend a ton of money on advertising and marketing. They hire agencies who profess themselves as the best and brightest marketers in the world to create content that appeals to their target audiences. It’s big business and has spawned some truly memorable marketing, especially when it comes to shoes. When you combine the personality and swagger of a world-class athlete or a famous entertainer and a fire pair of shoes with a great marketing campaign, it'll be something that sneakerheads won't forget.
We haven't forgotten our favorite commercials, and we love them so much we figured we'd share them with you. If you haven't seen these ... you're in for a treat. If you have, you're in for a great trip down memory lane. Let's get to the (chronologically ordered) marketing classics.
Michael Jordan & the Nike Air Jordan I-1984
Everyone knows the story. Michael Jordan's first shoe, the Jordan I, was banned by the NBA. Nike took the ban and ran with it. The rest is history.
Run-D.M.C. & Adidas-1986
Rappers getting shoe deals isn't a big deal in today's world. Have a hit song or a cult following? A shoe company will lace you. But back in the 80's, a shoe company offering a rapper a deal was unheard of. Adidas was the first company to recognize the powerful personal brand a rapper/rap group could establish, and blessed Run-D.M.C. with their own co-branded shoes and apparel. This commercial represents a pivotal moment in sneaker history.
Michael Jordan, Mars Blackmon, & the Nike Air Jordan V-1989
Mars Blackmon is arguably the most famous pitch man in the history of sneaker advertising ... and nobody can forget this classic commercial in which he tries to deduce what exactly makes Michael Jordan the best player in the universe. It's GOTTA be the shoes!
Larry Johnson & Converse-1993
There's never been a sneaker spokesperson quite like Grandmama, Larry Johnson's high-flying, slam-dunking, Converse-wearing character from 1993. Fun fact: Grandmama even made it into a legendary Family Matters episode a few months after the commercial originally aired.
Charles Barkley & Nike-1993
You know a commercial is great when it stirs up a storm of controversy. Charles Barkley looking directly into the camera and stating that he wasn't a role model did just that. Parents and organizations around the country fumed (can you imagine the butthurt if the commercial aired in 2017?), and his shoes flew off the shelves. Playing the villain done perfectly.
Penny Hardaway, Tyra Banks, & Nike-1996
Penny Hardaway and his alter ego Lil Penny (voiced by the legendary Chris Rock) made many a memorable commercial during the 90's, but the ad for the Air Max Penny III with the beautiful Tyra Banks was the very best. Do you have 2 pennies and a bunch of loafers in your shoe closet as well?
Allen Iverson & Reebok-1997
You could make a strong case that nobody in the the NBA has ever had/will ever have more sauce than Allen Iverson, and after his 1996 Rookie Of The Year campaign, everyone was waiting with baited breath to see what he'd do next. His second signature shoe, the Answer DMX was introduced with an ad where AI "taught" his legendary crossover, one of the most notorious signature moves in NBA history.
Adidas & Kobe Bryant-2001
Don't think for a second we wouldn't have young Kobe on this list. The Adidas Kobe 2 came with a hefty $200 price tag and a nifty marketing campaign in which Kobe pulled off some impressive (and computer-enhanced) dunks.
And 1, Kevin Garnett, & Styles P-2001
No shoe company had the streets buzzing like And 1 in the early 2000's. They doubled down on their signature gritty urban streetball aesthetic, and one of their first major ads featured a young Kevin Garnett doing his thing on the court backed up by an original verse from the OG Styles P.
2001 was a pretty great year for sneaker commercials. One of the most creative basketball ads ever (don't deny it), the Nike Freestyle commercial featured streetballers from all over the world dribbling their hearts out to a rhythmic basketball-bouncing beat. It was all about the game.
Reebok, Allen Iverson, & Jadakiss-2002
Allen Iverson was at the top of his game when this commercial released, having come off an MVP season in 2001. This black-and-white commercial featuring a Jets-jersey wearing, rapping Jadakiss as a backup to AI was simple, sweet, and to the point.
Reebok & 50 Cent-2006
50 Cent was untouchable in the mid 00's. The biggest star in hip-hop, he was literally and figuratively bulletproof, and his Reebok ad to promote his signature G-Unit sneakers (we're sorry if you never owned a pair) played perfectly off his atmosphere of invincibility.
Nike & Kobe Bryant-2008
Kobe Bryant and Nike's Hyperdunk promotion was something truly special. It was the first time that Nike ever used a viral video instead of a direct ad to promote a product. This was 2008, before social media stunts were commonplace, and the internet was wild with debate over whether this video of Kobe putting on his new Hyperdunks and jumping a speeding Aston Martin was real or not (it wasn't), and the shoe got a ton of shine for a fraction of the advertising cost. Truly incredible.
Nike, Various Players, & Juelz Santana-2008
For the 25th anniversary of the iconic Air Force I and the release of the new Air Force 25, Nike gathered their whole basketball roster from LeBron James to Rasheed Wallace (the Air Force 1 OG) to Tony Parker, outfitted them in white tracksuits, and turned them loose on a court in a hangar to backing music from Juelz Santana, who created the best original song for a shoe commercial ever. Legendary.
Nike & Kobe Bryant-2009
The whole "Kobe System" commercial series, in which Kobe lectured an audience full of famous friends was hilarious, but the best was the third installment, in which Kobe insists a confused Kanye give "more".
Adidas & Pharrell Williams-2015
Adidas's partnership with Pharrell Williams has been quite fruitful. Everyone knows about the "Human Race" NMD's, but that's not all Pharrell did. His first major release was a Stan Smith in 3 colorways, and then the "Supercolor" collection of Superstars, featuring 50 different monochromatic models. Skateboard P spoke on the importance of individuality, something he's always been known for ... and Adidas knew to sit back and listen.
What's your favorite commercial on this list? Was there anything we missed that deserved a spot? What company do you think has the best commercials? Hit us up and let us know on Twitter, check our Facebook page for updates, and, as always, be sure to follow us on Instagram for all the fire photos you can handle.