The “SUPREME” theory of hype branding

Soham Kulkarni
Mar 7, 2019 · 5 min read

Unfolding the unconventional strategy that led a streetwear brand to billion dollar valuation and a cult fan following

Hundreds of youngsters, fashion enthusiasts waiting for ten — twelve hours, even a day outside a store in London, New York or LA; A cult fan following ready to empty their wallets just to get their hands on release of new arrivals; The products reselling at over 1200% of their retail price; Extensive collaborations with brands such Nike, Louis Vuitton, The North Face, Stone Island etc and a billion dollars brand valuation..…. How did a streetwear brand achieve all this? Here’s a list of some tactics Supreme used to create the hype we see today:

The art of limited Supply

Supreme has mastered the art of limited supply. Since its inception, Supreme has always maintained a small inventory, and never released a ton of pieces. It doesn’t sell in large retail stores, hence keeping its availability limited. This maintained a sense of authenticity , while driving up desirability and demand. At this point, any other brand would’ve charged more premium prices and raked in the cash.

Here’s the strategy that differentiates Supreme from the herd. Instead of charging a premium price for their highly desirable products, they kept them relatively cheap and affordable. Now one might think this as a bad strategy, as it leaves money on the table that could have easily gone into Supreme’s pockets. But Supreme was able to convert that foregone revenue into significant hype that led to more brand equity.

Retail and resell values of Supreme’s products — Source:sumo.com

Unique approach towards customers

Supreme’s website is quite different than any other retailer’s website. While most of the brand devote a large sum of resources to curate their online presence and and need a special team that handles all the design and traffic, Supreme maintains a simple, dark-themed website that only shows the bare essential options for customers. This ‘stripped down’ minimalist design forces all the attention onto the single graphic — supreme logo which is strategically placed.

Supreme’s website homepage

Supreme clearly wishes to display the exclusivity of their brand through their site design. It’s a clear message — “It’s the customers who chase the brand and not the other way around.”

Three days before their new drops, Supreme launches ‘lookbook’ on their website that provides customers with rich visual engagement with the brand. When the ‘lookbook’ goes live on Supreme’s site, one can see what Supreme is going to drop over the next few months, but you don’t get to know when those items are going to drop. Apart from these, Supreme also has collaborations and surprise drops which aren’t included in ‘lookbook’.

Also, the homepage contains a link for customers to join the mailing list. And when someone actually joins the list he gets …….. NOTHING!

Supreme’s attention toward exclusivity also continues to amaze to those who join the email list. Following suite with everything else they produce, Supreme’s email sign up is not the norm. While all their competitors try to bombard the consumers with emails highlighting offers, discounts, sales etc — Supreme uses their email list as another tool to portray the message that ‘you chase us’ in their marketing.

Even when you try to sign up for their email list - you enter your email, select your language choice , notification choice and press subscribe — the confirmation message displays your mail address is now unsubscribed. Thus forces you to repeat the whole procedure again till you understand that’s how their sign-up works.

Sign up procedure to join Supreme’s mailing list

Supreme uses their email list for two main purposes:

  1. To update consumers on their weekly new arrivals or famously known as ‘drops’

“Each week you will be notified of a location where you can go and sign up for your spot on Thursday’s line. Once you receive the email you can proceed directly to the location given.” — A message on Supreme Reddit Forum

2. To send secret emails to a list of selected customers

Supreme has been known to select a special group of customers and then send exclusive updates only to this selected group. Whether they choose these customers in a specific manner or whether the selection random is still unknown.

Supreme’s email tactic is such a mystery that often they do not even send order confirmation receipts to their customers. There are dozens of conversations online regarding order confirmations on Reddit forums and Twitter:

Source: Twitter

Collaborations to increase the brand hype

Collaborations with right partner can create brand awareness, increase brand momentum and hype for both the parties. Over the years, Supreme has collaborated with many parties including Nike,Rolex, Playboy, Japanese Red Cross Society, MTA etc. This article lists the best of Supreme’s collaborations.

Supreme’s greatest brand collaboration was between Supreme and Louis Vuitton in 2017. This definitely increased the already hype around Supreme , same time helping Louis Vuitton to target different customer segment.

If you want to know what cooks the recipe of Supreme’s hype branding , it all boils down to four factors : Scarcity. Authenticity. Identity. Perception.

Supreme was started in 1994 in New York as as a reaction to a slump in the skate industry. That makes it authentic, or seen to be authentic. Supreme has successfully infiltrated the mainstream, maintaining brand authenticity and creating hype at the same time. Supreme uses various unconventional strategies to approach customers and leverages onto its exclusivity. With its smart collaboration with different partners over the years, Supreme has created brand identity and hype a typical brand could ever dream of!

To summarize myself in a sentence, I’m an engineer by interest, strategy enthusiast by passion and an inquisitive thinker by nature. Currently final year student at VIT University , I write a blog on business strategy with a dedicated goal — To improve business acumen of college students, one article at a time. When I’m free, I love to read books and create digital art. Connect with me to find out more about what I have to offer — or get in touch to discuss how I can help you on your next project.

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