Rob Heppler, Creator
I was looking at the Nike SB webpage and only two shoes jumped out at me. Then I thought about Nick Diamond’s Tiffany Dunk and that Gucci one. They both had that weird luxury thing. So then I’m like, “Fuck. What does Boston have?” When someone’s visiting, they always want to have lobster. Lobster is the only thing on the menu that says “market price,” or considered to be very expensive.
The other reason I thought of it is super personal. My Aunt Gert practically raised me. Every Saturday morning her and I would drive from Needham, MA, to the Bay State Lobster Co. in Boston. There were these huge fish tanks all full of lobsters and I would go there and play with them. That was my fucking childhood sanctuary. I’ve also been deep sea fishing a thousand times. I spent my summers on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. I know everything about the ocean.
I’m not an artist, I’m not a designer, but this just flowed out of me.
Lobsters are all different shades of red when they’re wild. They’re mauve and brown and have algae on them. I included all those different colors. Then I’m thinking about putting all these extras on it, like the fucking two-cent rubber band around the toe. It’s just so ridiculous, but it made sense. It’s a no-brainer. If you’re getting a rubber band, I want a pair of claw crackers that say Nike, I want a bib that says Nike and I wanted the box to be a lobster trap. My original idea was that the first fifty boxes are actually made out of wood. I just put it all together and I sent an email. I said, “Hey guys, I really think we should think about this,” and it escalated from there. I just found this email that says, “I’m not an artist, I’m not a designer, but this just flowed out of me. I don’t know how it happened.” It was very strange how this all came about.
Intial mockup / sketch of the Red Lobster
Deon Point, General Manager of Concepts
Rob came through with this lobster idea and it was hideous. It was the worst thing I’d ever seen, but the rest of the guys were like, “This is sick! Let’s see what we can do with this.” I just didn’t get it and it seemed pretty generic. Jeff did the Staple Dunk at the time with the pigeon on it, and it just seemed now that we were following suit. He had a great amount of success with that, but I felt we were doing something to me that just seemed too easy.
We fine tuned what Rob had given us, which was a drawing he probably did with crayons. We turned it up a little bit and added the liner print which was reminiscent of lobster bibs. We added a few minor details and sent it to Nike and the guys over there were pretty stoked on it. We got the first round sample back and quite honestly, it looked amazing. I had to eat my words and I apologized to Rob. I said, “This is sick!”
Catch & Release
Developing The Story
We knew this might be our one chance. We just wanted to make it count.
Fast forward to Rob leaving. I believe he was going for a job at Wieden + Kennedy in Portland. I want to say Frank the Butcher came along, probably just after the first sample. Frank and I connected with a design firm out of Boston, named Pilot. They design anything that has to do with packaging, from Star Wars to Hasbro. We went to Pilot and said, “We want this shoe to be larger than life. We’ve got a pretty cool idea, but we need something else.” At the time, very few shoes actually had packaging that was really mind-blowing. Pilot came back with some storyboards, and we jumped into this Concepts Fishing Company idea. That’s what started our campaign.
It was us taking a chance. We knew we had one shot and we needed this to hit. Essentially, this could make or break us. We’d seen how big Nike was for other brands. We knew this might be our one chance. We just wanted to make it count.
So we did the posters and the packaging. As we were doing the screen printed box, we also did the wooden lobster trap. We did the nutcracker, the wet naps, the laces that looked like butter, we did Concepts fishing shirts t-shirts as well as button-ups for the staff. Last but not least, we did a real heavy-duty brown paper bag with the Concepts Fishing Co. printed on the side. Once it all came together, it was quite a bit of work. I know we spent a week and a half re-boxing and putting together everything that was in the kit.
We were ecstatic with the outcome and people started talking about who Concepts was. As novelty as it was, it was a great chance for us to get out there and show what we had. It finally put us in the same conversation as some of those guys in New York that we thought were doing an amazing job.
I get a call from my buddy Scotty Keating at Nike SB, maybe six months later. He said, “Yo, what do you think about doing a blue one? The one that we talked about?” To circle back, I had asked to do three pairs for the blue one as friends and family when we released the red ones. When I got that phone call I’m like, “Wow this is great, we get an opportunity to get back on the board.”
This campaign blew the roof off everything. We went back with Pilot again and said, “We did amazing work last time, but this one has to be bigger and better.” We brainstormed with the Pilot guys for three weeks while they were doing packaging for the next Star Wars movie. We discussed how we could make this launch different. We came up with a few different storyboards. The last one we looked at was a monster. These blue lobsters are attacking Boston and people are freaking out! They’re these aggressive creatures who roam in packs.
We started with the custom Styrofoam hazmat box. We sealed this hazmat box, so you have to slice though the label to open it, which we knew would automatically make the price go up. We also vacuum sealed the shoes, where again there’s another opportunity for the price to go down if you were to tamper with those at all.
They were like, “What do you think about there’s this professor, Walter Gillstrom, who is campaigning against the city saying these blue lobsters are unsafe and that they’re attacking the city? Everyone’s in danger and he’s trying to warn them, but nobody’s listening?” So they set up this fake Twitter for Walter Gillstrom and we made metal signs that said “Danger Blue Lobster!” and we Photoshopped them all over the city. So now we were using Twitter and we’re using whatever social media platform we could to promote that there’s these lobsters attacking people and animals.
The coup de grace was we made this six minute long video where we finally disclosed the blue lobster. I don’t think in the history of sneakers, especially from an independent, has anybody waited until the week before launch to show the product. People were finally getting a little hip to what was going on, but there was no confirmation that it was going to be a Nike shoe. At the end of the six minute video is where we finally first show the shoe and put the date, and people just went crazy.
On the eve of us launching the shoe, we went out to dinner with Nike and they were super excited about the energy and everything that was going on. They asked us to give them an hour in our lounge to set up a presentation. I was sitting in the store like, “What the fuck are they doing down there?” Then they call us down and say “Come on, we want to show you something.” When all of this was going on and we’re doing this blue lobster, a guy in Maine had found a yellow one, which is a one in two million chance of finding it. “So as a gift to you guys for this energy around this launch, we wanted to gift it to you guys.”
They made 36 pairs and we were so excited! They asked, “The only thing is just make sure nobody wears them tomorrow for the launch. Let’s just get through the blue ones.”
There was a really nice dinner that night, we get fucked up and show up to work in the morning. We got some guys dressed in hazmat suits and we put liquid nitrogen in the container, so the lobster was steaming. We walked all the way around the block, the whole line. We had 600 kids out there now and I think we made 800 of the sneaker. So we were walking past all the kids going crazy and then you see them going from taking pictures of us, to running to the front of the store. We’re not even at the front of the store yet and we’re like, “What’s going on?” My boss decided to wear the yellow lobsters! He shut the fucking line down. Kids left their place in line and ran up taking photos and videos. So now it’s taking the shine away from this blue one and I’m like “Oh my God, the one thing they asked you not to do, you did it! What is wrong with you!?” And he had True Religion jeans on with him, so that made it even worse!
One thing that stuck out to me is how important the story is for these kids being able to justify why they’re waiting in line for three or four days. We realized the story is imperative to who we are. We also realized we’re great at doing it, and when people started catching on and doing packaging and following along the lines of what we’ve done, that’s when we realized we needed to open New York and create stores and environments around the stories. Somewhere you could walk in and become enveloped in the idea that we had a mission.
The most important thing to take away from this is it was exciting for us. Building it up and anticipating how the kids would be receptive to it was the exciting part. Once we realized we could involve them and that they could tell their friends, tell them they missed out, or how cool it was, even something as minuscule as a blue lobster is one in a million chances of getting it. Those type of things resonated with us most. That’s what got us to where we are now.
As you can tell we go a little bit above and beyond. But again, even at my age I think it’s still fun and it’s definitely the most exciting part of my job. I still geek out on it. I love it. I still get just as excited as I once did. That Holy Grail one we just did was fucking super fun for me and we’ve got a couple big ones coming up this year that I think will be really cool. We look at ourselves as luxury sport, and being good at storytelling is just another part of who we are. It’s one thing we will never abandon. We’ll stick with it as long as we can.