The home of Chuck Taylor is hoping a new song, "The Drive Thru," featuring Mr. Casablancas, Pharrell Williams and white-hot indie songstress Santogold, can renew the century-old shoe brand's status as the indie music scene's footwear of choice.
The song debuts tomorrow at Converse.com and will be available as a free MP3 download, compatible with the iPod, Zune and other music-playing devices. The campaign's digital model is similar to recent music-themed marketing efforts from the Gap and Smirnoff, which also commissioned popular artists such as the Raveonettes, Common and KRS-One to record exclusive songs for online campaigns.
But Converse will be the biggest spender of the recent pack of music-driven marketers when it turns "The Drive Thru" into a TV campaign, featuring all three artists in clips from the song's just-filmed music video. Extensive print and outdoor campaigns have already rolled out, featuring the tagline "Three Artists, One Song."
Geoff Cottrill, chief marketing officer for Converse, said "My Drive Thru" ties in comfortably with Converse's heritage of aligning with the independent minded. "We call them optimistic rebels," he said. "They're the core of what our brand stands for -- being an advocate and catalyst for creativity. ... We wanted these guys to come together, create a piece of music and share it with anyone who wanted it."
Added Mike Byrne, executive creative director for Anomaly, Converse's creative agency of record, "I think by having Pharrell produce the track, we knew we would get something that wasn't hip-hop or pop or rock. This year is the Converse century, and we're definitely celebrating our heritage of challenging the status quo in art, sports and fashion. It was a nice ode to all the people who helped build this brand."
Converse has tried out several nontraditional ad tactics as part of its 100th anniversary, including TV spots featuring no sound at all and recent print ads featuring the likes of Joy Division's Ian Curtis and the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious hawking the shoe from beyond the grave. While some of the efforts have garnered more criticism than praise among its core fan base, the gambits have nevertheless kept Converse in the black: Converse revenue was up 23% year-over-year in first-quarter 2008 and 40% in the second quarter, according to figures from Converse's parent company, Nike.
But measuring the success of "My Drive Thru" won't be as cut and dried, especially at a time when branded songs within the Nike family are receiving Grammy nominations. Jon Cohen, co-president of Cornerstone, the music-branding agency that helped unite brands such as Nike, Caress and Smirnoff with top musicians, said metrics will be based on total downloads, traffic to converse.com and the song's overall pervasiveness in the blogosphere.
"With the way music gets distributed and circulates now, we know it's going to end up on some peer-to-peer sites, some MP3 blogs," Mr. Cohen said. "The goal is to get it on as many people's MP3 players as possible."
Mr. Cottrill, who came to Converse in November after nearly two years at Starbucks Entertainment, has even more modest expectations. "If this thing reaches people and they like it, we've done our job. It's as simple as that," he said.