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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Aunt Bessie’s – Social Media

Aunt Bessie’s is a traditional semi-prepared food manufacturer that has achieved great long-term, organic growth.  This has been with a traditional brand image.   The Yorkshire-based business was originally founded in 1974 specialising in producing the local favourite: Yorkshire Puddings.  Since then – not only has production of puddings risen above 20 million a week – the company has also managed to expand its product range.  This has been done by line-filling; Aunt Bessie’s is now a leading supplier of a variety of traditional home-cooked meals.  Inevitably, their market has become fully saturated.  Hence, their latest marketing strategy is to penetrate the market through social media in an attempt to squeeze-out all the sales they can.

But is this just another company aimlessly trying to use social media because ‘everyone else is’?  Or is this a credible strategy?

Although the details are very vague at the moment, Aunt Bessie’s Marketing Manager Lorraine Crow wishes to “maximise awareness of our products and connect with our fans with an engaging social media presence”.  They hope to do this through the most predictable means: create a Facebook page, a Twitter feed and run online promotions.  The theory behind it is that consumers have a strong emotional attachment with the brand, and social media provides a more channels for them to engage with their favourite brands.

I see two clear problems with their approach:

1) It’s all been done before – just about every brand has an online presence in a Twitter/Facebook medium.  Albeit they are still formulating their strategy, Aunt Bessie’s has yet to reveal anything revolutionary or innovative.  Why should I want to communicate with this brand, as opposed to any other brand?

2) It does not reflect their positioning – check out the advert below.  It is clear that the core benefits sold to the customer are traditional food, but quick to cook.  Social media is certainly not traditional; moreover, if their customers are looking for a product that saves them time, are they going to want to waste the time they have saved buying Aunt Bessie’s products mindlessly scrolling through the brand’s tweets?

Having said that, however, their advert does have some humour to it.  This suggests that the brand does have potential to keep its core values and add some more emotional values.  Marmite is the best example of this.  They have kept the core product unchanged – high quality, consistent and traditional – while creating a youthful and exciting brand image.  There is no reason why Aunt Bessie’s cannot replicate what Marmite has achieved.

Overall, I am undecided on whether this is a good or bad move.  Although it seems to have a similar objective to Marmite – revive a traditional product – I do not thing social media is the best means to do this through.  Instead the company should look into other ways they can re-introduce the brand through altering their marketing mix.  Social media simply does not work for every type of brand or product.

Let me know if you would bother to interact with Aunt Bessie’s through social media by leaving a comment below.

© Joshua Blatchford, author of Manifested Marketing, 06/07/2011.

Bacardi – Rise of Web 2.0 and social media

Bacardi is responsible for brands such as the eponymous Bacardi, Eristoff and Dewar’s scotch drinks. Currently, the company has separate websites for each of these brands – they have decentralised their online media presence. However, the company has recently revised its online strategy; this would be considered part of the control and review stage of strategic marketing planning. They plan to move their marketing spend away from managing individual websites and to instead allocate 90% of their online marketing budget towards Facebook.

This move towards a centralised, or more concentrated marketing effort, shows that the company has responded to recent technological change. Possibly through a PEST analysis, Bacardi have come to identify the emergence of Web 2.0 that has major implications for online marketing. This has allowed internet users to create and share content, and is what social media sites, like Facebook, exploit.

Namely, internet users spend more and more of their time interacting with each other. Hence, their own websites are gaining fewer visitors; while, at an increasing and more significant pace, social media platforms are receiving more hits. Thus, it becomes more cost-effective to allocate their marketing resources to purely social media. I like to think of this as a kind of ‘digital rationalisation’.

One can induce that Bacardi used this information and compared it to their marketing audits, which outline a firm’s marketing activities. This can then form the basis for a SWOT analysis. With any strategy, strengths and weaknesses must be matched to opportunities and threats. Evidently, Bacardi’s weakness was an inefficient website system and changing technological trends – the rise of Web 2.0 – was a threat. However, the strategic marketing process has allowed them to respond to the external environment; and thus, turn their weakness into a strength.

Utilising social media is more beneficial than simply reducing the overheads of running a firm’s websites. Unlike Bacardi’s own websites, which a primarily based off Web 1.0 principles, social media, which utilises Web 2.0 developments, allows consumer to business and consumer to consumer online marketing. The former allows customers to seek out Bacardi; as consumers spend more time on social networking sites, they are more likely to find them through Facebook, for instance. While the latter allows consumers to share and distribute online material with other customers – something which would not be possible without Web 1.0.

Although I agree that firms such as Bacardi should respond to external threats by viewing them as opportunities, in reality it may be the case that Bacardi are merely responding to their competitors – as opposed to being pragmatic and thinking for themselves. See one of my earlier posts about Heineken here. Like Heineken, Bacardi have also made the mistake of trying to adopt a social media marketing approach but have simply only focused on Facebook. This is a sign that the company is lacking innovation and intuition – two critical success factors that are imperative in online marketing.

A better approach would be to use a wide range of social media platforms, while ensuring they are interlinked and consistent with one another.

Heineken – Social Media Marketing

I recently attended a talk on social media marketing by another fellow student at Aston University and it was truly effective in emphasising the importance of social media. It is changing the way companies create value for their customer and extract their reward in the marketing process. The potential future of social media marketing, likewise, has not gone unnoticed by even the largest of companies. Giant dutch, lager beer manufacture ‘Heineken’ has caught on this trend: the company has taken a proactive approach to the changes in the technological environment by allowing customers to purchase Heineken-branded merchandise. This includes clothing, glasses and any other products that are suggested by their consumers. I believe there are three key benefits of using social media to Heineken.

Firstly, Heineken can differentiate its offerings. Heineken’s new social media marketing strategy appears to be ticking all the right boxes and avoiding many of the ‘traps’ or common mistakes that other companies make when attempting to utilise social media. Most significantly, Heineken are not using this as simply a way of capturing more value from customers – namely, increase their sales revenue. Instead, Heineken have identified that social media marketing is all about empowering customers to be able to communicate with the company. Obviously, the ability of customers to suggest products to the firm and then the firm being willing to consider the demands of their customers is mutually beneficial. Furthermore, this will allow Heineken to effectively implement a concentrated marketing strategy because they are able to design individual offerings to their target market.

In addition to this, Heineken have clearly undertaken invaluable market research in order to utilise their brand equity. This is the benefit the firm gains from the customer knowing their brand, which in-turn influences their buying-decisions. Hence, Heineken have ascertained that those customers likely to purchase merchandise are those sociable consumers, who are more likely to be using social networking sites. Moreover, Heineken have avoided another common error of social media marketing: assuming that Facebook is the only tool available. One of the points made at the presentation I went to was that Facebook is not social media – it is only one part of it. This explains why Heineken have also created a Youtube channel, a Twitter account and have updated their website. Such a universal approach to brand positioning means that it is easier to promote their differentiated offerings over their competitors’.

Lastly, the company can capture financial value from their customers in addition to the intangible benefits of brand equity. Offering products to customers through social media has been dubbed as ‘Social Shopping’, where by customers shop with others and therefore influence others to make similar purchasing decisions. This can be seen as a new, digital-form of word-of-mouth communication. Hence – albeit the objective of a successful social media strategy is never to increase sales revenue – it would not be a surprise if sales of Heineken do increase; particularly given the fact that their Facebook page has almost one million fans. This is a core principle of the marketing concept: success lies through delivering superior value to customers than competitors can.

Ultimately, sooner or later all companies will need to adopt social media strategy into their marketing plans. However, as it eventually becomes the norm for a firm to have a degree of social network involvement, it is important that companies do not become ‘just another’ Facebook page; innovation is needed. This opposed to a conservative culture among some firms, who feel the only reason for using social media is because their competition are. Hence, it is the proactive and creative companies such as Heineken who use social media in new ways before the competition does that will gain a competitive advantage.

© Joshua Blatchford author of Manifested Marketing 14/12/2010

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