“I believe the most powerful force for creating capital is cultural capital.” – Steve Stoute
In 1986, Adidas found themselves with a 2% market share in America. What was extra strange was that 80% of those sales had been coming from a concentrated portion of the northeast region and they couldn’t figure out why. In this pre-internet world, they sent an executive from Europe to New York to research why the Shell Toe SKU was selling so well. Once there, two other clues were revealed – people were buying a pair and immediately discarding the shoelaces, and a local rap group named Run-DMC was rumored to be performing a song about them.
The executive went to a Run-DMC concert to see it for himself. When they did their song, “My Adidas,” the group held up a pair of Shell Toes in front of 18,000 kids with no shoelaces in them. Mysteries solved.
The culture – Run DMC wearing and celebrating the shoes as part of their identity – created the capital – Adidas sales that were noticed across an ocean. When Steve Stoute talks about the power of cultural capital, this relationship is what he is referring to. Culture can be the force multiplier that drives trends. When they really take off, these are the trends have the potential to extend far beyond their original source.
In 1986 and today, there are a million new-news stories, but there are always only a few that are consistent headline makers. Social media can amplify and speed up these effects. Whether something is trending on Twitter or Reddit, or moving from the C-section of the paper onto the front page, the point is to recognize the stories of the moment. Yes, looking for trends is partly looking for fads, but it is also how we keep a finger on what is relevant. There’s a constant balancing act between knowing what works and is timeless and knowing what matters and is timely.
When we are asking these questions of our profession, we are preparing for the future. If we fail to ask these questions, we are failing to prepare. We are all telling a story. If we don’t understand the context of how and why our story fits in, we are out of step. We don’t create capital without understanding social capital.
Steve Stoute on the Math & Magic podcast.
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