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How One Brand Appeals to Three Generations

A 70-year old grandpa, a teenage girl, and a GenX woman walk into a restaurant . . . no, not the set up for a joke, but a true story.

My family and I were meeting for lunch, and as we spotted each other walking across the parking lot, three of us realized we realized we were wearing the same thing! The same shoe to be exact - the classic black Converse Chuck Taylor All-Star Oxford – Chucks!

I laughed, my dad laughed, and my niece was horrified.

As a marketer, I contemplated how the 100 year-old brand could appeal to three radically different generations and personas, especially a clothing brand?

Last month, Converse announced that they are introducing a new design for the Chucks. Fast Company magazine in its coverage pondered “how do you redesign the Coca-Cola of shoes without becoming the new Coke of shoes?” Really good question.

When the shoe was first created in 1923, there were three styles – a black canvas upper and black soles version, white canvas upper with blue and red trim, and a black leather and rubber version. In 1949, the white toe guard and outer wrap appeared and in 1957, the low-cut “Oxford” style was released – the one that would cross three generations of my family.

For us, the shoe, with deep emotional branding, had the appeal to transcend three generations. My dad reminisced about wearing the shoe while playing sports and seeing pop culture icons of his generation – Elvis and Jack Kennedy – photographed wearing the shoe.

My niece declared the shoe “to be part of her rock-and-roll style.” (Not sure what that meant, because she was wearing a concert from a country act, but I let it go.) To her, the shoe was a statement of her individuality in a sea of teenage sameness. My GenX motivations were a confluence of the older and younger generation’s affinity for the brand. I also grew up with the shoe firmly entrenched in my 80s pop culture influences. From the Greasers in my favorite movie, “The Outsiders,” to rock-and-rollers of my youth, Chucks were the cool kid’s shoe.

Now, wearing the throwback shoe, is part nostalgia and part a style choice. If I wear Chucks, can I hold onto my youth? As styles go, the shoes are quite practical - they “go with” all things casual and comfortable, but aren’t Easy Spirits!

The new shoe, out this month, is positioned as a premium product in the Converse line, promoted to have significant comfort upgrades bequeathed from the parent, Nike, and will cost about $70-80. I know my dad won’t spend that much for his sneakers, I won’t, and my niece has moved on to her bohemian “boho-chic” phase, so long live the original Chucks, with its brand affinity deeply rooted in nostalgia and style!

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