What’s all the hype?
Suspense-inducing marketing methods are manipulating the younger generations
December 21, 2018
The evolution of hype
On November 18, 2017, it took less than a minute for the Semi Frozen Yellow Yeezy Boost 350 V2 to be completely sold out online.
Before any such “drop”–the release of a new, limited edition product–excitement nears its maximum capacity. Social media explodes from the “hype” of celebrities on Instagram, such as Kanye West—the brainchild of the Yeezy brand—who advertise the product and even inspire sneaker-enthusiasts to line up outside stores hours before the release time.
The “drop” strategy of hype brands is a precise art. The first time hype products appear online, you buy a computer “bot” that chooses the desired product to purchase—but there is only a limited time until the stock sells out. The price of a bot can be anywhere from $1.99 to the $325 AIO bot that claims to have “helped sneakerheads cop 40,000+ limited edition.” Even if everything sells out, you still have a chance to claim your prized sneaker. Online resale websites, such as Grailed, show up with the same products, which can have a price inflation upwards of 1000 percent.
Of all the hype brands, the most familiar is the red and white rectangle emblazoned on clothing: Supreme. The logo represents more than an ordinary insignia on a t-shirt—it can produce reverence, disdain, or indifference based on any given person. In other words, it is a subculture gaining a mass cult appeal. According to the Wall Street Journal, Supreme sold half of its stake to a private-equity firm Carlyle Group for $500 million, surpassing the worth of teen retailers such as Abercrombie.
Supreme grew up from humble roots, however. The brand, taking its name from John Coltrane’s tune “A Love Supreme,” originally was founded as a small, inconspicuous skate shop in New York City. The brand first appealed to a close-knit group of skateboarders, and originally had low, appealing prices. But as the hip-hop community grew and attained popular appeal, the hypebeast trend grew: when rappers A$AP Rocky, Tyler the Creator, and Kanye West donned the red and white logo, it was only so long until the fad caught on in mainstream clothes and stores.
The hype-tactics may appear crazy and deceitful to those unfamiliar—the design seems so simple that anyone could produce it. However, the strategy of Supreme and other hype-brands seems to work all too well. Adam Alter, a marketing professor at NYU Stern School of Business, backs up Supreme’s strategy with economics. “If you want to create a scarcity frenzy, and your brand has a strong following, all you need to do is release a large number of different products, but very few of each one,” he says. The limited supply, it seems, combined with high demand, is the perfect recipe for “hype.” The underlying philosophy of Supreme’s leader, James Jebbia is “if we can sell 600, I make 400.” This idea of limited stock conjures images of a hypebeast competing with others as if in a Hunger Games-like dash to the cornucopia—indeed, attaining hyped products sometimes seems like a matter of life or death.
The appeal of hype in “Generation Z”
The idea of “conspicuous consumption” plays into the growing subculture of hype. In a school setting, everyone knows what everyone is wearing, so there is a social benefit in wearing something known to be “scarce” or “limited edition.” The culture of “hypebeasts” on Instagram also promotes a desire to own products featured by celebrities or friends. But, while wearing hype may seem to obviously increase one’s social image, there are blurred lines in where hype becomes “stylish” or “gross.”
Junior Alessandra Costalonga uses exactly such word when the word Supreme first enters the conversation. “Supreme is kinda gross unless you have good style…” Costalonga said, trailing off. She has problems with the aesthetic of Supreme, but concedes to buying products because of their “hype.” “I think I’m high fashion, but I also like thrift stores and stuff like that. Vintage, sometimes, but I don’t want to look like I just walked out of a movie” Costalonga said.
Junior Yona Ketema also has mixed feelings about Supreme, but embraces the idea of hype. “I am kind of a hypebeast, but I wouldn’t get anything unless I liked it, you know. People buy stuff just because its hype and not even wear it—they just have it,” Ketema said.
Costalonga takes on a more reverent tone for fashion hype brands. “Christian Dior,” Costalonga said, after a hushed ‘oh my god,’ “is so classy.” Christian Dior is one of the growing luxury brands—among Fendi, Gucci and Louis Vuitton—and is a counterpoint to the so-called “streetwear” style of Supreme-like brands.
Ketema’s eyes light up upon hearing Christian Dior. “Dude, if you get the Dior Plush toy…” Ketema begins.
“Lemme see…Wait, is that like the Moschino toy?” Costalonga interjects.
“There’s this artist named Kaws that sells these animals this X’s on their eyes, and they’re worth so much money” Ketema explains.
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The aforementioned toy is currently listed in StockX, a re-selling website, with an asking price of $12,769. Even to the self-declared hypebeast, this kind of hype has gone too far.
“That’s really hypebeast, if you buy that bear with X’s on its eyes just because its Christian Dior,” Costalonga said. Ketema agrees. “If you get this stuffed animal… you’re insane,” he concludes.
But sometimes, the allure of hype is too much to overcome. “Ok… you know who this is? Takashi Murakami,” Ketema said, pulling up a picture on his phone. “He’s actually my favorite. Look at this poster: It’s sick, right?”
When hype brands become an extension of one’s personality and style, rather than something one must conform to, hype can be an exciting subculture to explore. Yet, hype–whether it be over the products or people who wear them–can easily become an obsession, leading to compulsivity and self-absorption.
While there may be no inherent similarities across “Generation Z,” the hype trend may help to explain its culture. A Business Insider study looking into this generation found that nearly 10% of teens said debt would be a major roadblock for Gen Z, especially for college. Paradoxically, a study by the investment company Piper Jaffray found that teen spending in spring 2018 was up 6% from last fall. Thus, hype must offer something that transcends the current uncertainties in Gen Z: self-expression.
We cannot deny the role the logos and our consumerism plays in defining our individuality. However, hype brands themselves use this sentiment to a great economic benefit–manipulating this desire for individuality with the “low supply high demand” strategy. While hype brands gives a feeling of authenticity to the wearer, these logos can easily become a symbol of status and superiority, at the cost of one’s original identity. But, the next time you see a hype brand logo at school–whether it be a Supreme sticker on a computer or a Christian Dior sneaker–don’t jump to immediate assumptions: the student may be wearing the logo, and not the other way around.