Marketers Can’t Resist Network TV

Black high top chucks and logo
High top chucks are a great deal.

Consider Converse’s recent product placement of its ancient-but-still-hip Chuck Taylors on NBC’s “Deal or No Deal.” It’s a reminder that broadcast’s reach is seductive.

The Converse-NBC deal for “Deal” called for the models on the game show, who normally sporting super-high heels, to wear Taylors to accessorize their usual short dresses on the Dec. 18 episode. (It was one of the top product placements of the week, according to measurement firm iTVX.) Plus, host Howie Mandel sported them with his usual suit, and even contestant Brian Miller donned what was billed as a “lucky” pair as he made his bid for $1 million.

Network TV sales executives have to be thrilled. Forget the chatter that the medium is moribund. For them, the Converse integration is a validation.

Here’s why. The Chuck Taylor brand has cultivated a cutting-edge, super-cool image only Millennials know. Recently, it’s been lauded for its anti-establishment campaign, known as “Brand Democracy.” In it, the people are in charge, effectively ushering in the era of user-generated content in advertising.

The ads offered the opportunity for trendy, artistic, inspired auteurs to create their own 24-second films and express what chucks mean to them. No Madison Avenue heavyweights needed.

Furthering the anti-authority message, we-the-people positioning is a link this fall with Hollywood daredevil Johnny Knoxville, the rebellious star of everything entertainment under the “Jackass” umbrella.

As Converse came out with Knoxville special editions, he offered his thoughts. “I have been wearing high-top Chuck Taylor’s for over 15 years, and I have had my ass whooped by just about everything in them,” he said. “I’m damn proud we are getting our own line of shoes.”

Fast-forward to Dec. 18, and check out the paradox.

A brand that’s tried grassroots home videos and press releases with “ass whooped” is now utilizing traditional brand integration by outfitting everyone on “Deal or No Deal”—a show designed to appeal to as much of the public as possible. Moreover, “Deal” has a decidedly non-Taylor median age—50.6—the same as “20/20”.

Looks like Converse just couldn’t resist the mass-appeal pitch. At some level, it decided niche campaigns are good, but reaching the 16 million viewers “Deal” delivers is better.

And that’s what network TV sells: Wide reach in one fell swoop. Dear Mr. or Mrs. Brand Manager: No need to experiment with viral marketing or blogs or YouTube or instant messenger when millions can be reached in a mere 30 seconds. (Assuming, of course, few of those millions are zapping the ads with DVRs.) And while you’re at it, don’t just buy the 30s, weave your brand into the stage or story line for a tidy premium.

Sure, “Brand Democracy” is fun and games, but does it sell enough shows? And does it reach enough of its anti-establishment-leaning target?

It did create buzz—but among the establishment. Winning a 2006 Bronze Effie award and drawing attention among the chattering classes at Cannes is strictly inside baseball.

The oldest cliché in marketing is “be true to your brand.” It’s a stretch to believe a vanilla game show is a medium that does that for chucks. Bummer deal.

by David Goetz

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