To celebrate the hundredth year anniversary of the Converse sneaker, Converse launched its global “Connectivity” campaign in 2008.  This particular campaign was in celebration of the heritage of the brand and how the meaning behind the Converse shoe had transformed over the course of a century, while the design of the shoe stayed relatively the same.  The Connectivity campaign used black and white print advertisements, outdoor images, digital media, and even an original song and music video to reach out to the young, edgy demographic that Converse targets.  The campaign used images of influential musicians from past decades that wore Converse as well as more contemporary artists that wear Converse to emphasize a feeling of connectedness between the past and the present. The campaign’s mission was to “provoke” or encourage youth to break away from the mainstream and to be unique.

The original Converse All Star shoe was created in the early 1900’s as a shoe for basketball players.  In the 1920’s Chuck Taylor became the spokesperson for Converse and for the next few decades the Converse sneaker was the leading sneaker in basketball.  During the 1960’s and 1970’s the sneaker began to shift from sports footwear to casual footwear and became a symbol for the punk and grunge subcultures. Most notably, the Converse shoe was worn by the band, The Ramones as well as by Kurt Kobain from Nirvana. Jack Boys, Converse CEO, stated, “Converse is the footwear company that was first in sports and first in rock ‘n’ roll, and we will continue to be the brand that inspires originality for the next 100 years.” The Converse brand wanted to celebrate its rich heritage through the Connectivity campaign. The Executive Creative Director at Anomaly, Mike Byrne, described the campaign, “We’re celebrating 100 years of Converse and the people who disturbed the status quo; they’re all connected via the Chuck Taylor. It gets back to the idea that every artist is connected to everyone else.” This global Connectivity campaign hit over seventy five countries and the advertisements were customized for specific geographical regions.  Different celebrity icons were used in different countries in order to best appeal to the people of that specific region.  The CMO of Converse, Geoff Cottrill, sums up the campaign, “Our whole mission is to inspire originality and be an advocate and catalyst for creativity.”

The imagery used within the Converse advertisements is extremely important in that it allows consumers to make sense of the product within the context of our society.  All advertisements act as cultural intermediaries or in other words, help to connect people with goods and allow them to make sense of these goods within their culture. In this day and age, consumers are bombarded with so many advertisements that it must be made easy for them to interpret meaning from the images they are presented with, quickly and efficiently.  According to Robert Goldman and Stephen Papson, “Celebrities are usually sought because they have high potential sign value…In recent years advertising has appropriated nostalgia, hip-hop music, grunge, and feminist sensibilities” (Goldman & Papson, 88). The Converse Connectivity campaign based most of its advertisements around celebrity musicians, which allowed consumers to quickly understand what the Converse brand and the campaign itself was all about.  Celebrities are often used to endorse products because consumers are generally more willing to buy a product that their favorite celebrity has.

For example, we can look at two print advertisements that Converse used for the campaign featuring Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols and Ian Curtis from Joy Division.  The Sex Pistols initiated the punk movement in the United Kingdom, while Joy Division led the post-punk movement of the late 1970’s.

sid ian

Both Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis are iconic rock ‘n’ roll musicians that rebelled against the mainstream and inspired millions of people with their music.  These two artists encompass the qualities that Converse believes their consumers should strive to have. The text next to the image of Ian Curtis reads, “Joy Division singer. Inspired by the menace and music of influential punks, before becoming one himself.” They make it obvious that these two icons are rebellious rock stars from the punk era.  Goldman and Papson write, “Advertisements are structured to boost the value of commodity brand names by attaching them to images that possess social and cultural value” (Goldman & Papson, 81). This is the case in the Connectivity campaign because by placing these well known images in the advertisements, the consumer can easily take away the meaning behind the Converse brand just by looking at the images for a few seconds.

The way in which Converse used posthumous images of these icons for the campaign can be considered “cultural cannibalism,” which is when well known cultural images are integrated into advertising to easily communicate a message (Goldman & Papson).  While the obvious, surface level meaning is that Converse are edgy, alternative sneakers worn by punk rockers, when taking a deeper look at the lives of both Sid Vicious and Ian Curtis, one would quickly find out that they both ended up committing suicide.  This makes them considerably bold choices for these ads, whether or not it was consciously taken into consideration how they died.  Regardless, it further emphasizes the type of person who Converse is targeting with their ads, which may be an antiestablishment or counterculture young adult who does not necessarily follow the rules.

When a consumer buys any product, especially a pair of Converse, they are choosing to buy into that specific brand, which in turn communicates a specific message about themselves to the rest of society.  In “Consumption is Good for Thinking,” García Canclini writes, “We should acknowledge that consumption contributes to the integrative and communicative rationality of society” (Canclini, 40). In other words, consumption itself has an extreme communicative power.  Choosing to buy Converse sneakers allows the consumer to communicate specific messages about him or herself to society. For example, by wearing Converse sneakers the consumer is conveying a message that he or she thinks outside the box, is creative, and artistic.  More specifically that he or she is connected to these iconic musicians, even if it is just by wearing the same brand of sneakers.

Looking further into the idea of connectedness through the Converse sneaker, we can look at a billboard that was featured during the campaign in Berlin, Germany.

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The billboard shows celebrities from the past and present all lined up, wearing Converse shoes, with their feet overlapping.  The celebrities include, Billie Joe Armstrong from Greenday, Joan Jett, James Dean, Sid Vicious, and more. This billboard shows the literal “connecting” of the artists through the overlapping of their shoes.  Through this ad, Converse is creating a sense of community that transcends time; all of these icons from different eras are linked together, literally and figuratively.

According to William Leiss and others, advertisements usually fall within one of four formats. The Converse Connectivity campaign best illustrates the personalized format.  This format emphasizes who uses the product and how it is used. All of the icons used in this campaign represent the “type” of person that would buy Converse sneakers.  Leiss and others write, “A person’s role, or even just fame, provides the connection between the product and its recommendation” (Leiss, et al., 186). The Connectivity campaign illustrates how influential musicians used the sneaker to differentiate themselves from the mainstream. The consumer may believe that since all these influential icons have worn or do wear Converse, he or she should as well.

For the most part, the Connectivity campaign targets a younger demographic.  Advertising to a youth market is different than it has ever been in the past because today’s youth have grown up being bombarded with advertising and have become somewhat savvy or even resistant to some advertising. They want what is “cool” or the next big thing, which makes them a very profitable demographic yet, a demographic that is hard to keep up with.  A large portion of the Connectivity campaign is the use of subcultures of the past to appeal to the edgy youth market of today.  Leiss describes what has become popular for youth markets today and writes, “The raw, authentic feel and look of the street and the margins became new sources of style innovation” (Leiss, 318).  Converse seems to be tapping into this look in order to target youth with the message that being different is something to strive for.  Decades ago, the idea of a subculture was a group of youth rebelling against the establishment, whereas subcultures today are very much aware that they are technically buying into an image.  In no way were subcultures of the past targeted by marketers as they are today. Klein writes, “Selling out is not only accepted, it’s considered hip” (Klein, 65).  Youth today may have a better acceptance of advertising and understand that the consumer culture that we live in is inevitable.

According to Klein,  “Cool, alternative, young, hip — whatever you want to call it — was the perfect identity for product-driven companies looking to become transcendent image-based brands” (Klein, 68).  Converse uses this very tactic to target youths by being alternative and edgy. Though, since many companies have branded themselves as edgy, Converse wanted to take it a step further placing a huge emphasis on music in the Connectivity campaign.  Not only did they use iconic musicians in many of their ads but one crucial aspect of the Connectivity campaign that set Converse apart from other advertising campaigns, was their creation of an original song and music video.  The song “My Drive Thru” was a collaboration between Santogold, Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), and Pharrell Williams and was written specifically for the Connectivity Campaign.

The song is catchy, upbeat, and is accompanied by a music video, which features all three of the artists wearing Converse sneakers. The song is about having fun and dancing in the summer. The video is all black and white, which reinforces the Connectivity campaign’s emphasis on the past.  By adding music as an integral part of the campaign, it amplified the message by associating a song with the Converse brand.  The lyrics include lines that emphasize independence and free-thinking like, “Don’t hate me, you know they got you wired. You’d better short circuit, be your own program.” A free download of the song was offered on the Converse website, which made this accessible to anyone with internet access.  In recent years, music has really becoming an innovative way to advertise; it is especially effective because people easily associate music with emotions and memories and in this case, a brand. Furthermore, having three artists of different genres create a song together supports the overarching theme of the Connectivity campaign in its mix of celebrities from different time periods and genres of music.

In order to further the interactive experience between the consumer and the product, the Connectivity campaign created a unique web experience for their customers.  Digital agency, Perfect Fools, launched an interactive social networking website in Amsterdam for Converse that targeted music festival attendees. The site enabled music lovers to share their experiences, photos, and videos from different music festivals throughout the summer for others to view, through the Converse website.

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This form of digital advertising speaks to Daniel Bornstein’s concept of “consumption communities” (Leiss, et al, 69).  A consumption community is a group of people who share similar taste preferences or consume similar goods. Converse aimed to bring consumers together on a global scale through the internet on the basis of their similar tastes in shoes as well as music, which “connected” people in a way that transcended the barriers of geography. Much advertising is moving in this direction because it is easier to target more specific audiences online and in this case, people can choose whether they would like to take part or not.

Converse’s 2008 Connectivity campaign used innovative strategies to appeal to an edgy, youthful demographic.  By using images of rebellious icons of past decades and past subcultures alongside icons of today, the campaign emphasized the longevity of the Converse brand.  They created a sense of community between their consumers through their interactive online sites as well as original music and traditional print ads. In celebration of one hundred years, Converse encourages pushing boundaries and going against the grain just like all of the Converse wearers of the past.  Converse would agree that in order to evoke change in the world, you may need to bend the rules and think outside the box.

Works Cited

Canclini, García. “Consumption Is Good For Thinking.” Consumers and Citizens. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 37-97. Print.

Goldman, Robert, and Stephen Papson. “Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning.” The Consumer Society Reader (1996): 81-98. Web.

Klein, Naomi. “Alt. Everything: The Youth Market and the Marketing of Cool.” No Logo (2000): 63-85. Web.

Leiss, William, Stephen Kline, Sut Jhally, and Jacqueline Botterill. Social Communication in Advertising. Third ed. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Brittany Welch

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