Why Clarks hopes 'calculated' WhatsApp risk will improve brand perception

Clarks has decided to take a "calculated" risk and run an advertising campaign on WhatsApp as it hopes to assert ownership of its desert boot product and "freshen up" for the 21st century.

The campaign, which will push messages out to consumers who add a specific number to their WhatsApp contacts, focuses on the history of the 65-year-old boot and tells the story of three characters from different subculture movements, including writer Steve Barrow, a pioneer of the 1960s mod scene, and reggae icon Stitch, who will discuss how the boots inspired the Jamaican scene in 70s Kingston.

Speaking to The Drum, Roy Gardner, group director of category marketing at Clarks, admitted that the team debated over the decision to use WhatsApp as the main element of the campaign, but ultimately decided that the brand needed to be where today's consumer plays.

"We’re extremely conscious in the Clarks environment in the role we have to embrace modern media consumption," he said. "So therefore yes it's very different for us, but I think it would be very different for any brand that you were talking to. We’re trying to develop and clearly improve our abilities in a broad social media context but I’m not sure which brand wouldn’t have that high on its agenda."

Clarks is hoping that the mobile-first campaign will help align the brand globally under one umbrella, especially in the UK where despite having a strong awareness, it isn't known for being particularly trendy. However this is something Gardner said Clarks has been proactively working on, having collaborated with designer Orla Kiely for a women's shoe range and an impending partnership with the Victoria & Albert (V&A) museum in London.

"Clarks is a much-loved brand in the UK but it’s a much loved brand with a particular profile," Gardner admitted. "But there are other elements of it which are also extremely cool in certain groups otherwise we wouldn’t end up with the collaboration products that we are able to do.

"We are on a journey of trying to build a global brand, we’re on the journey of trying to improve our style perception and looking at the leaders we can pull to do that."

With the V&A museum, Clarks will tell an interactive story of the brand called Clarks Unboxed at this summer's Pleasure and Pain exhibition, and the pair will also work together to design a limited edition product collection.

"There are a range of activities that the brand has going on in order to re-present, re-fresh and elevate the perception of Clarks," continued Gardner.

"It's a well-liked brand but it’s a brand that has the opportunity to freshen itself up and present itself into the 21st century."

The central From Rats to Rudeboys WhatsApp campaign will be complemented by links out to further content including a Spotify playlist, the brand’s e-commerce site, and social media, which will focus on the story behind the boot and how it became a status symbol in 1970s Jamaica.

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