Written by Russ Bengtson (@russbengtson)
Consider this a disclaimer: I am just as guilty of some of the things I will lay out here as anyone else. Which, in this case, only further validates the points I will attempt to make. I have been getting sneakers for free for a long time now (one of the first pairs I got seeded were FILA Stack IIs—the first time they came out) and I have undoubtedly promoted pairs through social media that I had no intention of wearing. Not that I’m ever going to tell which pairs those were. And while I love getting free sneakers, especially before they release, I do this for the greater good. Sorry, me.
End seeding, sneaker companies. End it now.
This will not be a popular position. End seeding? No more free sneakers? But… but… how will we know who the influencers are? Here’s the thing, though: How are we supposed to know now? Without seeding, things will actually be much clearer.
Let’s start with a definition of “influencer.” No one can be influenced who doesn't want to be. So it's more of a "position" determined by others. One can aspire to be an influencer, but not actually make themselves one. Deeming yourself an influencer is the equivalent of giving yourself a nickname—in other words, it never works (unless you’re Kobe Bryant). But that’s not to say being an influencer is a powerless position. Because if you truly are one, people pay attention to everything you do. Because real influencers actually influence. Shocking, I know.
One can aspire to be an influencer, but not actually make themselves one.
Seeding is a blatant attempt by sneaker companies to short-circuit the process, to get product they wish to be promoted in the hands of those most capable of doing said promoting. Now, this in and of itself is not wrong. Sneaker companies are in this to make money, not friends. And if grassroots marketing is truly effective, a few pairs of sneakers distributed before they hit retail is a small price to pay for a huge social reach.
But here’s where things gets complicated. It would be one thing if seeded pairs were distributed with no expectation of anything being given in return. And if those receiving seeded pairs did some curating on their own by only promoting (or wearing) pairs they deemed acceptable and fitting their aesthetic. In other words, if influencers only pushed pairs that they would have bought anyway. Let’s call these people “legit influencers.” That is rarely what happens. Instead companies package their offerings elaborately—complete with specific hashtags to use and accounts to call out—and would-be influencers post everything they get, in some sort of ever-increasing “got mine” sneaker arms race, perhaps driven by fear of being left off the next seeding list. (Hint: If your entire social media feed can be branded “advertorial,” you’re doing it wrong.)