Global Marketing

The Global Branding Power of Vans: Taking SoCal Surf-Culture Worldwide through Celebrity Endorsements

By: Natalie Filice, Katie Kirk, & McKenna McVicker

The classic and immediately identifiable Vans “Old Skool” sneaker has proved to be a universal fashion staple for the past several years. Regardless of age, style, or social status, Vans has successfully transcended their brand from a solely surfer shoe, to an essential item that is found in almost everyone’s closet the world over. The brand is more prevalent today than ever before and has a prominent global presence. A presence that arguably has more of an impact today than during the shoes initial launch. The success of the iconic Vans sneakers have shown that the brand has landed on a strategy that is more than a “nostalgia-fueled, profit-boosting revival”.

In the 1980s, during the brand’s infancy, Vans were the footwear of southern California surfers and skateboarders. In the article, How Vans Got Everyone Wearing Vans Again, John Vorwald explains the success of Vans’ global branding strategy. What's a huge contribution to global brand success of Vans? They're multi-cultural, multi-generational, and embedded in pop-culture.

The global reach of Vans, as explained by Vorwald, is largely due to the brand capitalizing on the “de facto runaway” that has occurred in recent years. With a strong and active social media presence, Vans has captured internationally high-profile figures sporting their fashions, specifically the “Old Skool” sneaker. Major players, within all genres of the music industry, such as Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, and even Justin Bieber were all spotted sporting this sneaker. Hollywood box-office powerhouses like Ryan Reynolds and top athletes have all be seen with the “Old Skool” style, making it and international wardrobe must-have. Breaking all social norms, in 2016, Frank Ocean even sported classic “Old Skool” sneaker when visiting with President Obama at the White House.

With the combination of candid, street-style images blasted all over social media, major celebrity endorsements, and even high-profile design collaborations, Vans has set the stage of the sneaker game through organic trend setting. Popular sports-figures that are known for being in the forefront of fashion and who are renowned for their sense of style have all spoken to the value to brand brings.  Influencers like Nick Young and Jordan Clarkson have been seen embracing Vans and have stated that they wear the “Old Skool” style regularly, Clarkson commenting that he owns an astonishing 80 pairs. LeBron James commented that “it’s a shoe that really just goes with anything”.

This organic brand exposure is invaluable for Vans and has shown that even when more expensive shoe styles are trending, the classic “Old Skool” style is one that is iconic and here to stay.  Some of the biggest internationally-know celebrities in music, sports, and film continue to speak out on behalf of the brand. Capturing these stars and socialites wearing their styles, and also capitalizing on this popularity through social media in order to communicate this value to consumers, has enabled Vans to have a distinct competitive advantage in terms of their global branding strategy.