Shoe ad drops - gets furries to "converse" about marketing and fandom
In Brazil in March 2019, a furry bowling event had gathered under the name Furboliche. In attendance was Crash Azarel, a popular fursuit performer who had been guest of honor at Brasil FurFest the previous year. At the bowling event there was also another group in attendance to take photos of the fursuiters, to show them wearing sneakers for an advertising campaign for Converse (a brand bought by Nike in 2003). These adverts have been recently released on their Argentinian and Australian sites. Crash shared the news of the marketing launch on his Twitter feed.
WELL CONVERSE-ALLSTARS's FURRY COMERCIAL IS OUT.
So far only in Australia and Argentina, but coming soon near you! XD on their site and on their shops! pic.twitter.com/TMdbVWmCkG
— Crash Azarel (@Crash_Azarel) July 13, 2019
Afterwards, some furs began to be critical of the collaboration, concerned about using one's fursona for the profit of another, and fears of corporate culture and marketing infiltrating the fandom. True to its brand name, the shoe being worn by the furs of Brazil were starting a conversation on outside marketing within the fandom.
Update 7/27: Brasil FurFest has announced a sponsorship by Converse since this article was published.
Of Ethics, Exploitation, and Expression
This is not the fandom's first rodeo with outside pandering. Some examples of products are Maskimals or kigurumis, among other more directly relevant products.
When it comes to shoes, however, Converse may not be a good fit for the fandom, when it comes to corporate ethics, as some furs have pointed out. The Good Shopping Guide, a site that rates the ethics of businesses, has Converse and its owner Nike in the bottom of its shoes category. Of particular note are Nike's treatment of humans and animals - among other dubious behaviors.
With such a history of exploitative business practices, Converse is trying to catch up to their competition as far as morals go. And now the furs that participated in their campaign might look as if they support the company's behavior, or might have to answer for the things Nike or Converse have done, despite otherwise having very little to do with them.
Fortunately, the general public will probably not be disillusioned that a furry, working with Converse for an advert, equates with condoning the company's past behavior. That's assuming that Regular Joe even notices the advert at all - or even knows of the past grievances against the company. Instead the general public would probably understand that it's just an advertisement. Just as MonsteRoo as a character did not represent Monster Energy drinks, furries aren't selling kicks just because they wore them for an ad.
As a community founded on the Internet, representation is typically done on the individual level. There's still a great sense of unease around any one person going forth to outside groups in order to discuss the hobby, or to be paid to be involved in an extra-fandom project like this. When there's corporate desire to expand and exploit our demographic, we fear that the spirit of identity within the fandom is at risk.. Even among furs who strongly believe in individual expression, the debate isn't clear-cut. After some furs shamed Crash and the Brazilians for their involvement with Converse, other furs have countered that it's the shamers who are trying to dictate who the individual should or shouldn't talk or, that trying to limit who they choose to do business with, is a form of stifling their expression.
Some have brought up the fandom having a defense mechanism, that behaving in more fetishist manner would discourage corporations to try and get too close. I'm not sure if that would work, since Converse was probably already aware of these aspects of the fandom before signing on. What they may regret though is furs actually talking about their corporate activities, just because they walked in our door. Like when they brought in Micheal Vick to do advertising for them, after he served a prison sentence for dog-fighting and other animal abuse. But who would remember a thing like that? Well, probably a group of people who have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for animal welfare.
The Advertiser, or the Advertisee?
But this interaction isn't all bad news. While many furs have criticized the sharing of the fandom's image and likeness by Converse to sell sneakers, what many critics fail to notice is that the advertising (in this case) works both ways. There may be furries in Brazil that are unaware of the bowling gathering, and may find out about it by this advert.
This is a phenomenon called "co-creative marketing". It's when two groups have a mutual desire to sell a product, and can utilize each other's resources to reach a wider audience. In this case, Converse wants to advertise some sneakers to furries, and in exchange they share the story of the growing furry scene in Brazil and their love of bowling. In turn, this may bring in more bowlers and attendees to the Brazilian furry spaces, without them having to pay for their own advertising.
In fact, the Brazilian furries got paid to advertise their own event.
Read the Converse advert for yourself below. Notice that it reads much more like an ad for the furry's bowling meet than for marketing the sneakers being worn in the photos.
Don't be Afraid of the Reactions
We are Furboliche! A bowling crew of "furries". We started fur bowling in 2014 in Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The internet brought us together, but the word quickly spread and we were gathering people who wanted to join in from all over. Our crew has been growing every year. Right now we have something like 250 "furries" from all over Brazil coming together to hang out and do some fur bowling!
An untapped market of the media's own creation
So, for Converse, why market this way instead of using traditional marketing?
There's a good article from Medium, "How Co-creation is fueling the future of marketing". Previous generations of consumers frequently had to experience direct marketing everywhere they went, but the new generation of tech-savvy consumers are better at avoiding it, thanks to ad-free subscription services and pop-up blockers. So now, marketing companies are finding it best to use the online platform to cross-promote with content creators and hobbyists instead.
In other words, as time goes on, furs should be aware that campaigns such as the one for these sneakers may not be the last. Marketers are learning what makes the new generation tick, and it's not through catchy slogans and jingles, but through a more traditional means of story-sharing, using their product's sites as the platform to share those stories.
And in a world where news outlets favor sharing low-hanging controversies and conflict, and thus giving less coverage to the triumphs of common people, advertisers may find that promoting their local communities through sharing their stories could prove quite successful as a marketing tactic.
Am I buying Converse sneakers? No. As a kangaroo fur my sole has already been sold on which extraneous sports footwear I would adorn if I decided to indulge. But to Converse's credit, I'm writing about the Brazilian furry community, whose successes are well worth documenting. They have a bowling meet that is larger than some of the fandom's earliest conventions! It shouldn't have taken a controversy over a shoe ad for me to discuss them. And I certainly apologize that a shoe company, with a sports demographic of all things, shared their story before Flayrah did.
Correction 7/27: Flayrah did cover when Abando closed in 2016.
In the future, should we wish for marketers not to buy and then sell our stories back to us, perhaps it will require those who write the stories of the fandom to be a bit more vigilant, and for us to get better at organically promoting ourselves. Otherwise we may find ourselves more dependent on this kind of cohabited advertising. Should the media (of which I am included) fail in this, the role of advertisers and news reporters shall eventually be, in a word, conversed.
(Also see the Dogpatch Press articles, 'How furries resist a commercialized fandom'.)