Why Brands (That Make Her Dance) Deserve A Second Chance

Converse - SXSW 2013What if I told you that a company that makes shoes, and is very successful at doing so, is also quite successful at developing opportunities that foster diversity and creativity through music? You’d probably think that the only time these two objectives might intersect is at the heart of some great advertising ploy, but you’d be wrong. Earlier this month, I visited Brooklyn, NY to witness the launch of Converse’s latest push of the Three Artists, One Song series, engaging in conversations with everyone from notable musicians to more under-the-radar business executives. It was a personal effort to learn about what this unlikely program – as well as the Converse Rubber Tracks Studio – represented, and the answers that were found were unexpected, but in a refreshing sort of way.

Converse - 3A1S-1

For example, Converse’s latest top secret creation is “Hero” – a collective effort from Diplo, crooning songbird Frank Ocean and The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon. There’s no arguing that it sounds like a collab that stems from dreams but in seconds, it influences you to understand the essence of what they deemed their Three Artists series. It is a built-by-brand project but it’s relative to the question “What albums would you bring on a deserted island?”, just made into a reality by melting three echelons of music into one really, really, awesome recording. According to Converse’s CMO Geoff Cottrill – a Florida State Seminole that revels in social interactions and despises Coldplay’s discography – the experiment took a natural course. Diplo has remained friends with the brand for several years and eventually became the centerpiece for setting the project in motion. “We have very little to do with the selection of artists,” says Cottrill. “This is about us letting go and contributing something to youth culture all around the world.”

In this case, “Hero” only took six months to come to fruition. It’s been on Soundcloud’s servers for a mere ten days, clocking in close to 900,000 plays while being a remarkable counter to Converse’s past works – including the songs “All Summer” and “My Drive Thru” which feature Kid Cudi, Rostam Batmanglij, Best Coast, Santigold, Pharrell, and Julian Casablancas. Bringing so many distinct parties together to work towards one common goal seems as if it would be challenging but this year’s trio noted that they were very diplomatic about letting each other pursue their respective visions. “We’re all pretty open-minded people and we love music and the sounds that come from music,” reasoned Paul Simonon. To elaborate, Diplo continued, “These guys were able to understand the way I work – the anarchist way of making music which they were really already doing before but in their own ways. They weren’t just a straight-forward rock band. They were known for covering reggae records and sampling songs and using effects.”

Despite their prominent chemistry and Converse’s “we’ll just peek over the fence” approach, some artists have been hesitant to work with the brand out of concern for compromising creative integrity. Understandably so as there will always be critics that believe capitalism has no place in art and that certain artists attach themselves to brands to find success. Frank Ocean was noted to be skeptical and he will likely still be cautious for obvious reasons, but after considering all the aspects of the project, he did choose to contribute to “Hero” in his own enviroment. This poses the question: should Converse be praised for their role in music? In a lot of ways, yes. Various industries survive on getting their back scratched but very few outlets find a need to give back to the community via resources such as Converse Rubber Tracks and even growing ventures like The FADER Fort and Thrasher Death Match.

According to Cottrill, Converse thrives on the relationship they’ve always had with music – i.e. Chuck Taylors’ rooted association with rock ‘n’ roll – and it allows them to become embedded in cultures. “One of our key values as a company and brand is to be a contributor,” says Cottrill. “We don’t just want to create big giant ads; we actually want to be useful. That’s why you’re sitting here in this studio that we built”. Needless to say, Converse plans to continue their initiatives and if “Hero” is any indication of what’s to come, it’s safe to assume they’ll push the status quo of being “innovative”. Bringing together Diplo, Frank Ocean, and Mick and Paul can make any blogger scream like an Edvard Munch painting, but overshadowing it with another genuine effort is what separates brands from “brands”.

Leah Beresford is all about selfies and she’s probably more punk than you. Follow her on Twitter: @leahdee90

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