‘An important moment to show up’: How Converse approaches pandemic marketing

With the coronavirus now set to have a prolonged impact on most businesses’ sales, global advertisers like Anheuser-Busch, Airbnb, KLM, Marriott and Coca-Cola have cut marketing dollars to keep their cash flows under control. Converse is maintaining its marketing in the hope it will help weather the growing crisis.  

The sneaker manufacturer has launched a crowdsourced campaign for housebound creatives called #CreateAtHome. Before the pandemic nixed productions, Converse was on track for more than 300 this year. For the agencies, photographers, models, stylists, directors ad post-production firms working on those productions, the cancellations were the latest in a series of postponements and cancellations due to the pandemic. With all those creators scrambling for jobs and stuck at home, Converse decided to showcase their work across Instagram, Twitter and its newly launched TikTok as the first phase of a new long-term brand campaign.

“As a result of Covid-19 we paused like everyone else and took a minute to reassess,” said Converse’s CMO Jesse Stollak.

The campaign, which launches this month, will see the advertiser’s investments ramp up again, though this time focused on social networks over outdoor and in-store, said Stollak. “Digital platforms are where we’re going to focus,” said Stollak. 

Digiday caught up with Stollak to hear about how his marketer’s reworked the company’s messaging and media plan, while remaining sensitive to people’s concerns about the pandemic. 

This conversation has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

When did you realize Converse’s marketing was going to have to address the coronavirus?

This campaign wasn’t something that came out of the blue as we’d been working with our team in China as the coronavirus started to spread through January and February. We were quite naive in thinking the pandemic would get handled and not impact our lives the way it did. But we did have an eye on it and we also had a playbook from not only our China team but also being part of Nike so we were able to see what did and didn’t work. One thing that resonated with us clearly was the way the Nike team in China paused and then when they did start to communicate the did so through the lens of the Nike Training Club and the in-home ways to work out. It was at this moment that the team there saw real traction. 

Is this campaign a drastic shift from what you had originally planned?

In a lot of ways, we pulled forward a lot of the thinking and work that we thought we had a little more time to do and come up with a way to bring all of that to life right now. Through the feedback, we got from the partners in our creative collective and the insights we got from our social listening tools, it became clear that people were anxious, alone, isolated and bored. We felt like this was an important moment for us to show up as a brand with a campaign that also acted as a public service announcement to make it clear to our fans that we want them to stay home, but at the same time give us a call to action to reach them while they’re there.   

You mentioned that you paused productions, what impact is that having on Converse’s marketing?

It means we can’t go shoot content on location with our talent and it means we don’t need to create asset for our retail stores right now because the stores aren’t open. It has had an impact on how we create in the immediate term and where that content shows up. You’re not going to see us doing any brand events right now. We won’t be running any big in-store activations or exhibits. People are connecting most of the time through digital right now. It makes us focus on being 100% digital in the immediate term. 

If the focus is on digital platforms, is that more on the organic or paid side? 

I’ve had the opportunity to help launch all of Nike’s social channels and you need to create content that feels endemic to that channel and then you can bring in the paid component to add more viewership, more specific viewer segmentation and more scale. First, though, you have to create content in a way that’s built for that platform. 

You’ve launched a channel on Tikok, will you be buying ads on there too?

When you look at TikTok they haven’t actually created a seamless journey that helps drive an immediate commercial return for brands. They’re trying to ride the wave that they’re on to reach the audience and daily usage numbers and when that happens I’m sure we’ll see some of those commercial integrations emerge. 

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Are you doing more than just giving people a platform to showcase their work?

It’s a longterm aspiration to work closer and more collaboratively with the creative community. Specifically, at this moment, that means we’ll continue to work with the partners and creators from our own network as well expand the opportunity to work with a broader audience via the campaign’s #CreateAtHome hashtag. 

Our brand teams are actively using our social listening tools and that allows us to have an internal conversation around the hashtag and discover new talent across Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. Not only are we providing people with a platform to showcase their work, but we will commission work from some of those creatives as well as leveling up their skills by giving them access to our collaborators and the creatives we have internally whether that’s through talks, conversations or classes. 

How did your marketing team adjust to working on a campaign remotely from home?

We started working from home mid-March and one of the first things I did was call a meeting for all our senior marketing team. During that meeting, our senior marketers in both China and Italy shared their insights on what it had been like to work from home during their lockdowns which had been in place earlier. So much of what they shared was around either making sure we were using our social listening tools to understand what people want from us. More than ever we need to make sure we understand the context of every word that we put out there as well as make sure that what we do decide to share doesn’t fall on deaf ears. The other main insights from the teams were around how we connect daily with each other as a team. By making sure we had a daily call it meant that we could mobilize around ideas faster. It’s less frequent meetings that you wait for now and more frequent connected meetings.

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