In my last podcast episode of Making the Brand, my guest Gina and I talked about what bloggers can learn from Sex and the City. One of the things we touched on was Carrie Bradshaw’s obsession with shoes, which really stems from Sarah Jessica Parker’s real-life obsession with shoes.
But on the show, Carrie has no problem dropping hundreds of dollars on designer shoes. I guess you can say shoes are her guilty pleasure. Throughout the entire series, Carrie and the other characters touch on some of their favorite luxury brands from Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Gucci, Manolo Blahnik, Dior, Fendi, Prada, etc.
No pun intended here, but on the heels of that episode, I want to talk about another brand of heels that has become a huge part of popular culture, in large part thanks to Sex and the City. I’m talking about what we know as red bottom shoes, which is a moniker for the real brand name, Christian Louboutin.
Red Bottoms in Pop Culture
You’ve probably seen countless celebrities wear Christian Louboutin shoes from Taylor Swift, to Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Meghan Markle, Selena Gomez, Blake Lively, Rihanna, and Katy Perry. And at a price point of $800 and up, they’ve really become a status symbol.
Speaking of Christian Louboutin’s high price point, you may recall this being referenced in Ariana Grande’s song, 7 rings, which is all about lavish spending and luxury. In one of the lyrics, she says that “happiness is the same price as red bottoms.”
There are a ton of other references to red bottoms in pop culture. Jennifer Lopez has an entire song called Louboutins. Hip hop star, Trina, has a song called Long Heels Red Bottoms, Cardi B mentions them in her song Bodak Yellow, and they are prominently featured in the TV show, Breaking Bad.
So what is it about red bottoms that makes them so special? I personally don’t own a pair and have never tried them on, but it’s fascinating to hear Christian Louboutin himself talk about how these heels make women feel. He says they completely change your body language and you feel this sense of confidence from head to toe. In fact, he says it’s more important to feel sexy than comfortable — I think some women would beg to differ, ha!
Christian Louboutin openly acknowledges the shoes’ high price point, yet I love that he stands behind it. They’re certainly a premium product, but you also get what you pay for. These shoes are nothing short of quality.
Beyond a Trend: Red Bottoms & Social Proof
Clearly red bottom shoes are a fashion statement, but it turns out there is a scientific reason that they are so popular.
Best-selling author and Wharton School Professor, Jonah Berger, talks about this at length in his book called Contagious: Why Things Catch On. The book does an incredible job explaining what makes things go viral and why certain products or ideas become popular. He dissects the science of social influence and shares something he calls the STEPPS framework. Each letter in the acronym breaks down a social influencer: Social Currency, Triggers, Emotion, Practical Value, Public, and Stories.
While I wish I had some time go over every element of the framework, let’s discuss the one that applies to Christian Louboutin shoes: Public
Jonah Berger describes Public as follows: “If something is built to show, it’s built to grow. The more public something is, the more likely people will imitate it. He says, Design products and initiatives that advertise themselves and create some visible behavioral residue.”
He uses the popularity of red bottom shoes as the perfect example to convey Public. Christian Louboutin found a way to make his shoes more visible by adding his signature red color to the soles. This not only makes the shoes look more fashionable, but it makes them more memorable. And as Jonah Berger says, because of this feature, they end up advertising themselves.
Another example Jonah Berger mentions in Contagious is Livestrong Bracelets, which were popular in the early 2000s. Livestrong uses these bright yellow bracelets to visually represent and symbolize a donation made to the foundation. This helped raise awareness in a very public way.
Applying Public to Your Business
So think about your own business or brand. How can you apply the “built to show, built to grow” mentality? Is there some type of visual you can attach to your products to make them unmistakable, like the Christian Louboutin’s red soles? If you have a storefront, how can you turn your windows into a spectacle?
If you want to influence an audience to buy your products or to become a customer, try to build brand awareness in a different way. Throwing money at advertisements isn’t always the answer. Sometimes, all you have to do is create something special that becomes a trademark identifier of your brand over time.
For more ideas like this, check out Jonah Berger’s book to learn more about why things catch on. There’s really a science to this whole marketing thing!