James Jebbia: The Supreme marketer of our generation.
Look at that logo. Rather nondescript, huh.
Just a red strip with Futura that looks like a Barbara Kruger rip-off. (Spoiler alert: it is.)
But you wouldn’t believe what that logo has been put through. It’s one of the great branding and marketing achievements of all time.
Supreme is an incredible mix of brand identity and brand voice. Uniquely the brand voice is the visual. And for something so simple, the brand voice is super punk.
There is no tagline. No slogans or manifestos. Even in a web search the meta descriptions are deliberately blank. The message seems to be that if you don’t know, we’re not going to tell you.
The brand hinges on that logo. That obviously ripped off and rushed logo. The logo with zero meaning and no cleverness. Because it’s not about the logo itself. It’s where and how the logo appears and how that leverages the social world.
More than any other brand I can think of, Supreme has mastered the art of brand collaboration and social amplification – all while staying bleeding edge cool.
Established in 1994, Supreme was the epitome of underground cool for a long time. Larry Clarks seminal film ‘kids’ was tied up with many of the same people who were part of the Supreme crew.
Slowly but surely, the underground came to the surface. Supreme was an early adopter of every new medium. They got on the internet early. They took on MySpace and Tumblr. And they didn’t get attached. If something new came along, they dove in.
Which is how the cool kids in Japan discovered them. And blew Supreme through the roof.
A major brand campaign that propelled Supreme to greater heights was shot in 2008. Terry Richardson was the hottest photographer in the world at the time. Supermodels and glamour mastheads. And Supreme asked him to shoot Kermit the Frog.
If you looked in skate magazines at the time, the photography was used extreme angles and whichever photographic effect might emphasise movement and dynamism. Skaters mugging tough for the camera.
Kermit was different. Good different.
Steeped in irony and cheerful nostalgia. Flat lighting. Instantly different. Instantly cool. And the internet spread it all around the world.
This experience must have been informative. Because Supreme began to create a series of products that were collectible, but more importantly talkable and shareable in the niche they were carving out.
Of course there were the clothing collaborations. And these are still the bulk of their sales. Nike, Lacoste, Vans, The North Face, Playboy, Levi’s, Timberland, Comme des Garçons to name a few.
All very cool, minimalist and true to the brand.
But Supreme never lost their sense of ironic punk.
They created a collectable $1000 brick. Their collaboration with Oreo cookies resulted in a three pack they sold for $8. Resold on eBay for $93,000. A supreme punching bag. Crowbar. Fire extinguisher. Pinball machine. Everything incredibly expensive.
These products are their advertising. Pew Die Pie absolutely HAD to eat one of the Oreos. There’s 10 million people getting introduced to your brand right there.
Rinse, wash, repeat. AND, to top it off, they make money out of it too.
But marketing is only a success if it builds a business.
Well, James Jebbia sold half the business to private equity in 2017. Half a billion. Ka-ching. But enough from me. I’ve included a bunch of images of some of the products Supreme have created.
And if you’re interested in learning more about this phenom – the image below is a new art book just released by Phaidon a few weeks ago.
Interesting to read if you’re want to know more about what’s cool. Absolutely essential if you want to learn more about the power of branding in the deft hands of a master marketer.
If you’d like to amplify your brand in unexpected ways, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Mike Lind to talk about your brand and comms.