What comes to mind when you hear the brand name “Converse?”

Converse Rubber Tracks Logo

You’re likely to think “sneakers,” “Chuck Taylors,” “basketball,” and even “Nike.” But for many, the word “music” isn’t necessarily top-of-mind. The company doesn’t incorporate music into its marketing, so it’s not surprising that it wouldn’t be associated with the brand.

Why, then, would the sneaker company invest in a 5,200 square foot, state-of-the-art recording studio, with award-winning engineers, and offer recording time to aspiring musicians… free of charge?

Converse CMO Geoff Cottrill tells PJA Radio’s The Unconventionals, “Most brands borrow equity from a musician… to make their brand look a certain way to a certain demographic… to look cool.” Instead, Converse found greater value in celebrating its consumer rather than celebrating itself.

Converse built Rubber Tracks, the Brooklyn, NY-based studio, to give emerging musicians the opportunity to record their music, no strings attached. “For what it costs to run three to four weeks of heavy TV [advertising] in the U.S., a good heavy campaign one time for a month, we could… run a studio for a number of years.”

If you think the intent is to make bands famous and tie the Converse name to them, it’s not. Cottrill emphasizes that they’re not making empty promises. “We’ve been really focused on making sure we keep our feet on the ground and that we don’t get into the music business because that’s not our business.”

The team at Converse wanted to become useful to its Converse Rubber Tracks Studiobiggest proponents by helping those who might not otherwise have been able to afford studio time elsewhere. They channeled their focus from creating a marketing message to turning the experience itself into the message. Doing so enabled them to build more meaningful relationships, and life-long memories for its core consumers—creative individuals. Cottrill notes, “The interactions that they have with you are what they carry.”
The return? Brand advocates.

According to Cottrill, Converse’s Facebook page has grown tremendously over the past few years because they haven’t tried to hook and bait people. In the past year alone, Converse “Likes” have gone from 25 million to over 35.5 million, more than twice as much as Adidas (11 million), and well more than Puma (8.8 million) and New Balance (454,661).

Directly linking these numbers to sales and ROI isn’t scientific. But in a 2012 study conducted by Razorfish, Econsultancy, and Social Media Today, over 34% of Facebook Fans consider the brand when shopping for a product or service. Likewise, about 34% recommend the brand to their family and friends. Jennifer Rooney, Forbes CMO Network editor, eloquently states, “As companies acknowledge the breakdown in brand ownership driven by social media, they are wont to give as a way to get, to let go as a way to hold on.” Brand affinity and relationships are of utmost importance to Converse, a company that sees immense value in giving back to its community and becoming relevant to individuals, whether they don Converse sneakers or not.

“Virtually everyone that’s come [into the studio]… is posting on Instagram, on Facebook, talking to their social media network, their fan base, about this great experience that they’ve had,” explains Cottrill. Converse never asks anyone to “Like” a page. It simply adds content and value to the conversations. And Fans consistently respond favorably towards the brand. According to its Facebook page, Converse has close to 200,000 Fans “talking about this.” Adidas has about 117,750. “We couldn’t be any more pleased with the results. Again I go back to the relationships that we’re creating there.”

Here in the United States, we’re all too familiar with the concept of “road rage,” often finding ourselves lambasting other drivers for their blatant disregard for the rules and safety of the road, only to be met with expletives, hand gestures, and even indifference.

As we know, this problem isn’t unique to the U.S. But countries tackle these perils in various ways. Columbia Business School recently published “Cheyef Halak: Driving Social Change in Lebanon,” a case study on how one country took on this challenge, but with a greater purpose in mind—to build an advocacy program inciting overarching social change.

In 2011, LBCI, a popular television network in Lebanon, with then Interior Prime Minister, Ziad Baroud, and Impact BBDO, created the award-winning Cheyef Halak campaign. Cheyef Halak integrates marketing and social media with sardonic messaging to address reckless driving in Beirut. But it isn’t solely about negligent drivers. Rather it used this topic as a launching pad to address a range of issues encompassing internal corruption and civic responsibility.

Described as a “civic movement based on citizen journalism,” Cheyef Halak is a platform on which Lebanese citizens photograph and report irresponsible and dangerous behaviors of individuals who consider themselves above the law. Pictures and videos of violators in action are posted on Cheyef Halak’s Facebook page and Twitter feed, creating what has been referred to as a “Wall of Shame.”

Cheyef Halak Facebook Page

The phrase itself means “Do you see yourself?” but is more commonly understood in sarcastic terms as “Are you proud of yourself?” Instead of taking a patronizing tone, however, the campaign incorporates commercials and outreach embodying a more satirical personality, using irony and humor to engage its audience.

Through traditional and emerging media, the campaign took off with measurable success. Within its first seven months, citizens captured over 2,300 road incidents and posted 100 videos. By the end of 2011, its Facebook page had attracted 27,000 “Likes” and its videos had garnered 68,000 views, now at more than 41,000 and 131,000, respectively. Not bad for a country with only 4.1 million people, about half the size of New York City’s population. It also won the 2011 Gemas Effie gold award for best use of corporate social responsibility, as well as several awards from MENA Cristal and Dubai Lynx.

Support for the cause has caught on with schools and other institutions. And in December 2011, the collected photos and videos were submitted to the current Interior Minister for potential use in policy initiatives. Columbia Business School Prof. Asim Ansari notes, “[The campaign] had empowered everyday Lebanese to become change agents able to track, report, and capture violators when state agencies were unwilling to do so.”

LBCI and Impact BBDO must now consider challenges as they look towards the campaign’s future. The founders are taking into consideration long-term sustainable impact, keeping messaging fresh and inspiring, raising funds, and whether they can effectively broaden the effort to tackle other areas of political and social strife.