WITH THE BRAND
What Converse Learned From Its “Love Noise Tour” In China
By Geoff Cottrill
Converse sees itself as an advocate and catalyst for creativity. It’s something that drives how we allocate all of our marketing resources. As a brand, our job is to support and celebrate the creative community around the world.
In China, we saw an opening to do just that by aligning ourselves with the country’s incredibly vibrant underground indie music scene.
There are great new bands, an energy and an edge that other cities lost long ago. What they lack is support. There is no touring infrastructure in China. There are no city-to-city caravans of tour buses and big rigs. Venues are few and far between.
Converse saw an opportunity to work with a few of these young bands. We didn’t ask them to star in commercials wearing our shoes. We didn’t ask them to write jingles for us. Instead, we got to know them and asked what kind of help they needed.
They told us they had always dreamed of going out on tour. They explained to us that they wanted to explore their own country and share their music with like-minded kids. So we bought a tour bus, hired a driver and hit the road with them in late 2008.
So many people in China refer to the music these artists create as “noise” that musicians embraced that tag and proudly declare that they “make noise.” We loved that idea so much that we named our bus trip the “Converse Love Noise” tour. We connected with two bands and created a five-city tour for them – and for us.
Our headliners, both from Beijing, were PK14, a respected pioneer of the underground scene, and Queen Sea Big Shark, a new-generation upstart. The bands didn’t play in big venues but along the way we stopped at small clubs and street corners in Nanjing, Hangzhou, Changsha, Wuhan and Xian. As we rolled into each city, we added a local band to the bill. Each night these bands played to audiences of 200-300 people.
So, what happened along the way? Beyond buying the tour bus, and coordinating the tour dates, venues, and logistics, we sent a small camera crew on the road to capture the personal stories of each of the members of the bands. The bus itself went from a big white bus to an interactive canvas as the bands and the kids along the journey took it upon themselves to paint every inch of it. When it rolled back in Beijing it was covered in graffiti and other artistic expressions. It was a mess but it was one of the most beautiful things we had ever seen. It told a story.
During the tour, the bands blogged about their journey as well as gave personal, on-camera interviews. We learned that these kids have something to say and just want to be heard. As China opens up more and more, allowing its young to have a little bit more of a voice will free them up to be more creative.
As a result of the tour, we had more three million visits to our Web site in China from last December through the end of March. We’ve gotten more than 1.8 billion (yes, billion) impressions through our online partners and a print and outdoor campaign. We edited the footage we shot and produced an hour-long documentary of the tour. Earlier this year, we gave away more than 100,000 DVDs of the documentary at retail stores throughout China with purchase of Converse merchandise..
Music, art and fashion are all colliding in China and what we found was inspiring and truly invigorating. We saw our consumers everywhere — onstage, in mosh pits, and outside on the curb. The indie music culture and scene in China is incubating incredible talent, but it needs support and leverage for access to larger audiences.
In a society that views rock music as “noise,” we wanted to uncover the passion of these kids – in their own words and their own music. This was the premise of the Love Noise tour. By supporting creativity, specifically indie rock in China, we had the opportunity to grow together with the scene, to add value and to influence this new generation.
Something very special is happening in China. Brands interested in breaking into the market should find a way of contributing to the artist community and advancing their cause – to be heard, to be young and to have some fun along the way. Make it about them. Elevate and amplify what they are doing.
Geoff Cottrill is chief marketing officer of Converse and is also a member of the Grammy Foundation board of directors.
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