The Nike-owned American sportswear company has taken over its China distribution, moved senior marketing staff to China, and put Nike's agency Wieden & Kennedy in charge of a campaign centered around Love Noise, a documentary film and integrated marketing campaign about one of the most quintessential aspects of the music world--the road trip.
In August 2008, two Beijing-based groups--the post punk rock band P.K.14, already one of the most influential bands in China, and Queen Sea Big Shark, a hybrid dance rock group with a female lead singer--traveled over 5,768 kilometers by bus for two weeks. Alongside local bands in each venue, the two groups performed in six cities--Nanjing, Hangzhou, Changsha, Wuhan, Xi'an and Beijing.
As the tour and story unfold, nine featured musicians reveal their personal journeys on the road to self-expression in a film directed by Liu Feng, a filmmaker who joined Wieden & Kennedy in 2005.
The program was created by the independent agency with media planning support from WPP Group's Mindshare. Both companies also work with Nike, which acquired Converse in 2003. The concert tour was managed by Splitworks.
The documentary was launched in mid-January 2009 and will be distributed to consumers with the purchase of Converse shoes at local retailers through the end of March, making Love Noise one of the longest and largest Converse campaigns to date in China.
It's a risky move for Converse, because China's independent music industry is still very small. On tour, unknown bands typically attract dozens or hundreds of people, not thousands.
"China's independent music scene doesn't have anywhere near the mass appeal it has in the West. It's at the pioneering stage at this point, but it is growing," said Cheryl Calegari, who relocated to Shanghai as Converse's senior marketing director for Asia/Pacific in January 2008.
Tying the brand into the local music world matches the brand's heritage in the West, where Converse has cultivated close ties with the music world for decades.
The Chuck Taylor All Star and other Converse shoes have been worn by music legends such as Sid Vicious and Blondie and members of the Beatles and the Clash. Converse created a special edition shoe for Kurt Cobain and one of its designs was inspired by The Who.
"Throughout our hundred year history, we've always celebrated art, music and fashion, so it was a natural fit for us to be a part of what's happening in China," said Ms. Calegari. Before she joined Converse in 2005, she worked with other fashion brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Kenneth Cole.
Ms. Calegari arrived in China about the same time the Nike subsidiary stepped up its presence in the mainland. It has increased its marketing investment and last year switched from a licensing setup to a distributor model. Converse shoes are now sold in over 1,800 retail outlets in China.
The concerts attracted around 600 people in Beijing and roughly 200 in five other cities. But they also drew significant local media attention, Ms. Calegari said, and were accompanied by on-the-ground activities. "There was also live blogging, driving traffic and chatter for fans of the bands in the digital space."
Although Converse shoes have only been sold in China for 15 years, the brand's values are strikingly similar to those in the U.S.
When Ms. Calegari arrived in China, she said she expected "some cultural differences. But it's still about teenagers discovering their uniform. Converse helps teens show their individuality and uniqueness, whether they write on them or depending on which colors they wear or whether they mix up the colors in one outfit."
Late last year, Converse launched a marketing campaign, also called Love Noise, to promote the documentary and the brand's commitment to creativity with images, music and video from the road trip in print, out-of-home and digital media as well as SMS animated shorts, said Wieden & Kennedy's Nick Barham in Shanghai. Mr. Barham and Nick Cohen were co-executive creative directors of the documentary and the campaign.
The brand's China web site www.converse.com.cn features a Love Noise studio, where users can customize ringtones, wallpapers and graphics to share with friends. They can also view streaming videos of live performances, behind-the-scene clips of the bands on tour, artifacts from the band's journey and a photo gallery and animated clips of the bands and their friends. The tour was photographed by Alex So, a fashion photographer and creator of an underground online magazine called Coldtea.
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