Converse Shoes – Celebrity Endorsement or CSR?

Converse, the American shoe company, may have been founded over 100 years ago,but does this mean that their marketing efforts lack innovation?

Converse have just launched a free-to-download song, ‘DoYaThing’, that is the collaborative work of the Gorillaz, Andree 3000 and James Murphy.  The song was recorded in Converse’s own studio called ‘Converse Rubber Tracks’.  This studio is completely free for up-and-comming artists, who have unlimited, and free, access to the recording facilities.

According to Converse’s Chief Marketing Officer (CMO), Geoff Cottrill, this a way for the company to give-back to the creative consumers who adopted the ‘Chuck Taylor’ shoe, which brought fame and fortune to the company.

Essentially, Converse claims this is Corporate Social Responsibility.  However, one could easily argue it is a very elaborated celebrity endorsement.  Either way, lets take a look at why both strategies make good marketing sense.

Without reading too much like a university lecture, it is interesting to understand how celebrity endorsements work.

It is essentially based on the theory of classical conditioning.  The simplest way to explain it is that using a celebrity endorsement ‘pares’ consumers perceptions of the celebrity to a brand so that they become ‘conditioned’, in the long-run, to associate the brand to the same set of feelings they have for a celebrity idol.  (Google classical conditioning, if you want an overly-complex explaination!)

Having said that, I personally believe that celebrity endorsements are not very effective anymore and they undermine the intelligence of consumers.

But I do think Converse shoes have avoided this trap by making sure the endorsement has a meaningful significance and actually makes sense.  For instance, as well as the song driving traffic to their site, they have allowed the Gorillaz to design some limited edition converses:

Hence, I do think that this use of endorsements to align the brand is more effective than the generic endorsements seen by others.  Namely, perfume and fashion ads that just rope in the latest celebrity that want to make some quick money.

In contrast, one could argue that Converse and music already share common brand values, such as creativity.  Meaning that the collaboration is actually appropriate.  Moreover, they are not forcing musicians to wear Converses for PR coverage.  In fact, musicians want to engage with Converse (as seen by the creation of songs by new artists and shoe designs by Gorillaz); this makes the endorsement seem much authentic.

But is this CSR if musicians and the company are getting so much out of this?

Their CMO is very adamant that it is all about ‘giving back to the community’.  But it is not hard to see that CSR provides the business with better PR and more website traffic.  This raises another question: is right to use CSR for marketing/ use marketing to ‘show-off’ a firms CSR?

Some business writers, such as Carrol, would argue that CSR takes different forms and that Converse are not being philanthropic as they are not simply giving away to a cause – they are instead  integrating profit-making/marketing and CSR together.

However is this integration right?  Micheal Porter believes so: CSR should even be integrated into a firm’s value chain.  But, fundamentalists – in particular Milton Friedman – think that integrating the two is inefficient and advocates a separation of CSR from profit-making.

Whatever your opinions of CSR are, I think ultimately this is a good marketing idea.  Which, as someone who is often skeptical of celebrity endorsements, is something that has surprised me.  I am sorry if this has sounded a lot more academic(ish) than my usual posts – which to be fair are already quite theory-based.  But it is quite nice that a recent topic has come-up in a same week I have learnt about relevant theories.

© Joshua Blatchford, author of Manifested Marketing, 27/02/2012

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