Chucks, 2.0.

When I was a kid in the L.A. suburbs of the late 60s, we all played every major sport -- park league football in the fall, basketball on outdoor concrete courts in the winter, and baseball in the spring. (Anyone who ran track was thought of as "an exotic" and -- as far as I remember -- soccer hadn't yet been invented.) And we all had a very special pair of shoes for each sport: a pair of low-top, black canvas Chuck Taylor Converse All Stars. (Invariably -- and quite oddly -- we called them "tennis shoes," as in 'grab your tennis shoes we've got a baseball game in a half hour." I'm told that Chucks were referred to as "sneakers" in the East and "gym shoes" in the Midwest.) That's it, just a single pair that took you across all seasons and all sports.

Then along came Adidas and Nike and Puma who logically and profitably sold in the idea that you needed a special pair of shoes for basketball, running very fast, running a very long way, riding a bike, playing tennis and any other pursuit you could imagine. Through the 70's and early '80s American closets ranneth over with specialized athletic footwear. Then one day, fed up with complexity and fatigued by ridiculously nuanced and iterative product features, the would-be-fit American consumer rebelled. "Can't somebody give me one shoe I can wear for everything?"

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Enter the cross-trainer. This revolutionary new shoe empowered the consumer to pursue whatever sport (well, not ice hockey) suited his fancy without another trip to Foot Locker. Yes, it took us 25 years, but we had finally come up with a newer, more expensive pair of Chuck Taylors.

We are at that inflection point in the world of marketing and media. It's gotten increasingly costly, frustrating and inefficient to think of each discipline or channel within it's own neat little box.

  • In an age where everything is mobile, what's the role of a mobile specialist? Don't I simply expect mobile expertise and vision from everyone?
  • The digital agency concept is fading to black. Marketers see digital as the connective tissue of the overall marketing plan. How can we possibly segregate it? (In fact, former digital agency leaders are increasingly taking the helm at major full service agencies.)
  • If you're American Express or Unilever, who do you want to meet with: the TV rep, the digital rep, the mobile rep...or the media company that speaks to the audience across all these devices?
  • If you're a publisher, do you want a programmatic solution, a native solution, a premium solution or a revenue solution?
  • Rich media? Social marketing? Video advertising? Virtually any qualifier we put in front of any of these terms will wither and fall away. Today it takes about ten minutes for the daily special to become a standard menu item.

It seems to me that marketers might just be ready to get out of the shoe store and get into the game. And maybe in that kind of environment the best thing you can be is a pair of Chucks. "Yeah," they seem to say. "You can play that game with us."