Pharrell and Tabula Rasa..

He is a little scamp, isn’t he?

This post could have been entitled ‘Coming through my drive through’, but I thought that too many people would get a little bit overexcited. You know who you are.

Onwards. Converse have just launched an initative called ‘Three artists, one song’ to promote their association with all different sorts of muzak. From indie to hip hop, it appears to be all there. Have a listen:

You can download that bad boy from the Converse site as well, if you like it. The work’s courtesy of Anomaly.

Tabula rasa, for those of you not bothered enough by it to use Wikipedia, is a concept which suggests that we are born with no innate memories at all – that we are uniquely a product of our experiences. Stephen Pinker disagrees with it, as it happens. Fine, all well and good, you might ask. So – what the hell does this have to do with Mr NERD?

Thinking about it further, I think it’s obvious that we are the product of our earliest days. It’s why I’m still so fond of Graceland, why I feel no shame in having read (and re-read) books like Fantastic Mr Fox or The Whitby Witches. And this, in turn, is why African music and macabre humour still plays a great role in my emotions and thoughts.

And if we accept this (that we’re essentially a blank slate when we’re born), it would make sense to assume that someone who has the ability to tug on a wide variety of interests, someone with this polymathic ability such as Pharrell (with a healthy dollop of just generally being a cool guy), can still really cut through.He’s not nailed to a precise genre. Being unclassifiable means that he doesn’t fall into any of the traps that the average celebrity does when they advertise a certain sort of product, or why he’s a PR man’s wet dream; simply put, he’s a swiss army knife celeb.

Now, I’m not quite so convinced that Julian Casablancas is like this – he’s a rich bugger already who, whilst cool, isn’t the polymath in the same way that someone like Pharrell is. He doesn’t really represent the brand of Converse in the ad/music video. He’s too one dimensional, as far as I can see. An indie singer with an interesting (some might say awful) voice.

So perhaps it’s fairly evident. If you are a brand which is founded on the notion of customisability, of allowing people to play, and, as a result, get emotional with your product or service, then using a 360’, deep and thoroughly multi-skilled and recombinant thinker and do-er like Pharrell makes sense.

Hell, even if the brand was comparatively mundane, he’d work much better than the average celeb, simply because he can’t be defined, and has a much greater chance of garnering an emotional response from us; making us (as Feldwick says – caution, opens a pdf), more likely to buy a product/service/thing.

Of course, it obviously matters that the song is damned fantastic, and that the content is just generally able to be used as an ad/viral/music video (some of the executions don’t use the Converse signoff). Engaging emotional content (either through what it says or celebrity associations) will always have a home in any comms mix.

It’s just bloody expensive to buy up these multi-talented folk, and just as costly to use less-skilled celebs for a product which doesn’t really fit with the association. But the dartboard does get bigger the more talented the person who endorses the product is. More likely to tweak an emotional response, more likely to buy the product. Easy, eh?

Well, maybe not. What happens if you don’t want to use a celebrity, and your product is either functional or just dull as ditchwater?

Certainly, no amount of celebrity endorsement or clever seeding will lead to a rise in sales. In fact, you might as well be using your product as a doorstop, for all the good it would seem to do you (and I think celebrity endorsements, if handled wrongly, can be bloody dangerous).

I think in that case, it’s time for a good old fashioned form of tabula rasa; the blank sheet of paper. Use it to answer why (through focus groups/intelligent, focused media), and you can easily compete with some of the sexier brands.