Aaron Carlsson
Executive Creative Director

ComplexCon '18 Takeaways

Experiential Lessons from "Our Generation's World Fair" 

Style. Sports. Music. Branding. Education. Activism. Art. A slew of subcultures wove its way through the third annual ComplexCon. Far from your traditional tradeshow, ComplexCon is all about connecting brands with their fans—a dynamic, young audience with disposable income and social visibility to spare. This consumer group includes far more than just the sneakerheads who flock to the festival. This is an informed, savvy, brand-conscious niche of entrepreneurs who curate their own personal brands. (Future-thinking lifestyle brands take note.)

Here are a few of our favorite moments (and a couple key takeaways) from the show…

Nike SB Tiffany Shoe

Nike SB x Diamond Supply Co: Introducing the next gen of an icon

At this year’s ComplexCon, Nike dropped a hyper-limited (only 250 pairs) canary yellow edition of their uber-iconic 2005 Nike SB x Diamond Supply Co. “Tiffany” Dunk. The small, modest space leveraged references to two of the iconic visual elements of the product: a rotating oversized faceted mirror diamond backed by the signature Nike SB pink shoe box. With a limited supply of highly coveted product, the demand in this consumer group skyrocketed. 

The excitement of the drop was electric and a deluge of social media buzz quickly ensued. After releasing the first 17 pairs, the crowd became so rowdy that the shoes had a security escort out the back door. Virtually immediately, Nike’s simple ComplexCon footprint reached a global audience.

Cadillac: Delighting audiences with big surprises

While Cadillac’s space itself was designed and executed at a very high level, it appeared more akin to a corporate commercial setup at an auto show. So at first glance, maybe Cadillac’s experience felt a bit flat and their brand presence didn’t seem like a natural fit for ComplexCon.

Of course, first glances can be deceiving…

On day two of the show, Cadillac’s deeper strategy revealed itself. Legendary NYC rapper Nas strutted through the Cadillac booth wearing a one-of-a-kind chain featuring a Saint Jewels-encrusted Cadillac logo. While Nas’ appearance was more than enough to drive social buzz, Cadillac then took it to the next level:

One lucky ComplexCon attendee who checked into their activation would be going home with the exclusive chain.

KNC Beauty

KNC Beauty: Standing out in a sea of sameness

While Nike is an icon within the culture of ComplexCon, KNC Beauty is an unexpected newcomer. As a female-owned beauty brand, nobody saw KNC Beauty coming. But everybody saw it once it showed up. Coming with a clear and concise point of view of their brand and opportunity, they stood out against a sea of booths to steal the show.

KNC Beauty’s activation was awash in ‘millennial pink’ instantly setting the tone and vibe of the brand. New, fresh, bold and feminine, but of the culture, they created one of the most Instagrammable social moments of ComplexCon. They even immersed themselves in the culture, partnering with Italian streetwear line GCDS to outfit their team. Meanwhile, digital elements and physical elements played together in the space seamlessly.

IDL Insights

1. Know what you do best and elevate it. Just by knowing that product is king, Nike cemented their place as a leader in this brand-coveted subculture. The brand deeply understands their fanbase and knew they didn’t need an entirely new product to drive lasting impact. Instead, a spin on a classic brought them far more attention.

2. Creating surprise and delight is a powerful way to forge new connections with fans a brand already has while solidify relationships with new ones. While Cadillac was initially on the peripheral of the audience, they created programming around the event and culture that bridged the gap and felt authentic. You don’t necessarily need a priceless, diamond-encrusted chain to make this happen. It’s just about understanding what the audience expects of you, and then stepping out of that lane just enough to turn heads.

3. Even unexpected brands can participate in ComplexCon successfully. KNC Beauty’s activation showed that all it takes is an authentic understanding of the culture and thinking that takes a stride outside the box. Integrate the audience’s culture into your brand holistically and naturally while speaking their language, and your brand can grow with this powerful consumer group.

4. Brands shouldn’t just respond to the cultural zeitgeist—they should strive to play a pivotal part in shaping it. More than anything, the IDL squad returned from ComplexCon struck by this one major lesson.

For individuals like those that show up at ComplexCon, a purchase isn’t just a matter of utility—it’s a statement. Show up culturally relevant, self-aware, and in surprising ways, and you’ll be rewarded with the loyalty of today’s most powerful brand advocates. 

Listen to our podcast recap here.

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