SXSW 2012: Converse goes hard-core with Ceremony at Thrasher party
Austin, Texas -- On Friday afternoon in deep Texas humidity, the San Francisco punk band Ceremony gigged the Thrasher magazine tent and offered brutal, fast hardcore punk to a sweating scrum of twentysomethings. Menacing vocalist Ross Farrar -- clad in a torn tank tap and baking in the heat -- barked out indecipherable aggression while an afternoon mosh pit propelled kids onto shoulders, random feet sticking into the air while the band went hard and loud.
Many of those feet were wearing Converse Chuck Taylors, the unofficial punk rock sneaker for close to three decades, whose marketing efforts during South by Southwest seem to expand every year. In 2012, the footwear and apparel company is co-sponsoring the Fader Fort and Thrasher's party, as well as offering free time to five small Texas bands in a pop-up recording studio space.
It's all part of a strategy headed by Converse Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Cottrill, who says up front that South by Southwest is by far his favorite event of the year. "The hype machine has come in and made its presence known, but you can still find bands," Cottrill says, adding that on Wednesday night his discovery was Philadelphia group the War on Drugs.
"The idea is to do something to contribute to the culture," he explains of the company's SXSW initiatives. "We try and help contribute on some level, versus just borrowing it." He cites the company's recent unveiling of Rubber Tracks Studios in Brooklyn, where Converse offers free studio space to artists with no strings attached (they own the music they make there -- and get free sneakers, to boot), as the company's most prominent commitment. So far the studio has recorded more than 500 tracks by 150 bands.
Critics in recent years have complained about the level of corporate sponsorship that ha's consumed South by Southwest: Chevrolet is offering free shuttle rides in their cars and has even parked a line of vehicles by the convention center for test driving (one hopes that breathalyzers are given beforehand); and Doritos and Taco Bell are giving away their new taco at a number of parties.
Cottrill says that Converse is merely getting its message into its customers' heads, and that by working with musicians and bands, the company spreads the word about Chuck Taylors through the people who wear them. "The hypothesis is, in today's social media world, people are media. They are the carriers of media. And I think that there are experiences that a brand can give to a consumer, and if it's done in a meaningful and genuine way, the consumer -- the artist -- then turns and says, 'I had a great experience there. Converse didn't ask me to sell out.' And when they say those things, that peer-to-peer advocacy is more powerful, more meaningful, than any ad or TV commercial we could possibly make."
Plus, adds Cottrill, "I don't really see it as being too corporate. This is still a place that's a celebration of music on all levels. You can see Bruce Springsteen one night, and then go see the War on Drugs the next night."
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Ceremony. Credit: Matador Records