John Kennedy. Jackson Pollock. Mick Jagger. The Ramones. John Belushi in Animal House. They all wore Converse.
The company’s famous Chuck Taylor All Star shoes have become pure Americana.
So, when the Sausalito advertising agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners was competing for the Converse account last spring, it was not surprising to hear the shoe company say it doesn’t own the brand — the consumers do.
While that might sound like pure marketing hype, the agency took Converse at its word and decided to let those customers help create an ad campaign.
The agency solicited 24-second films that could be about anything inspired by Converse. To each, the agency added six seconds for a tag line and the image of a Converse model that the marketers believe will appeal to the ad’s audience.
The ads are in rotation on MTV, Comedy Central, Cartoon Network, ESPN and other cable stations, as well as at www.conversegallery.com.
Other marketers have gone before Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners in soliciting product-inspired advertising.
BMW Films is a collection of sophisticated shorts by Hollywood directors and actors. For example, F. Murray Abraham appears in a film called “Ticker’’ directed by Joe Carnahan at www.bmwfilms.com. It stars the Z4 roadster.
BMW found that customers were paying less and less attention to traditional media, and reasoned it could mine the next generation of buyers in part via branded content advertising.
In addition, Absolut Vodka was inspired to use art to communicate the essence of its brand beginning in 1985, when Andy Warhol was commissioned to create a painting of its bottle.
A lengthy list of painters, clothes designers and other artists has produced their interpretations of Absolut and its bottle ever since, said Lorne Fisher, spokesman for the Absolut Spirits Co., importer and marketer of Absolut and other brands in the United States.
The Converse work, meanwhile, is unique in that the minifilms don’t center on product placement. Artistic freedom reigns. Well, within reason.
“We will take weird any day of the week, but offensive is something we are not into,” said Dave Maddocks, Converse vice president of global marketing.
Greg Stern, the president of Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, recalled how the thinking about the campaign jelled: “It’s not going to be advertising, it’s going to be more like an artistic grant, and our media, whether it’s print, outdoor or television, will be the media or the canvas for that statement.
“Converse and its Chuck Taylor (model shoe) are all about originality, creativity and self-expression. How can we get the wearers, the fans of those shoes, to express themselves in that way, showing their own creativity?’’
Solicitations for 24-second films went out to a group of filmmakers and other artists the agency knew, and films poured in.
For the first phase of the campaign in July and August, there were about 250 entries. Twelve were selected for television and eight for the Web. Another 250 were submitted for the second phase now showing — eight on TV and five on the Web.
The ad agency set up a Web site with everything from helpful hints to release forms for people in the films, and 100 tracks of downloadable music. The entries came from established and would-be artists.
Converse Inc. of North Andover, Mass., is a 96-year-old company that became a wholly owned subsidiary of Nike in 2002. Its brand managers understand that many people have made Converse their own and that it plays a part in their transition from adolescence to adulthood, said Maddocks.
“Everyone who buys the product buys it to be reflective of who they are — that is what we mean by ‘The consumers own the brand,’ ” he said. “Our feeling is that what is unique about the Converse brand is it accentuates what is unique about the individual who chooses to wear it.’’
Converse invented the game’s first performance basketball shoe in 1917, and for years, the brand was the choice of many athletes. The ad campaign is pitching fashion — perhaps 16-year-old girls shopping in a mall or a hip hop-influenced group of street basketball players.
The campaign “looks to be altruistic, based solely on creativity, but there is a lot of sound strategic foundation in this as well,” said Stern, referring to the identification of various groups who will see the ads and, hopefully, be drawn to the shoes that the marketers match with each film. Industry sources say Converse is spending $12 million for the 12-month campaign.
So far, there has been a payoff: Since the launch of the campaign in August, traffic to www.converse.com, a commercial site, has jumped 66 percent compared with the previous 12-month period, and nearly 400,000 visitors went to www.conversegallery.com in the first three weeks of the campaign to view the spots, said Stern. Online shoe orders doubled in the first month, he said.
One of the filmmakers who helped make that happen is Steve Daniels, a cameraman at WLTX, the CBS affiliate in Columbia, S.C. In his film, a buddy, Lee Smith (he’s in all of Daniels’ films that make the rounds of regional festivals around Columbia) is an Evel Knievel-inspired daredevil who rides a bicycle up a ramp and clears a row of 20 or more black Converse high-top Chuck Taylor All Stars.
“I had some lame idea about a film about a shoe collector, but my girlfriend said I should do an Evel Knievel,’’ said Daniels, giving credit to Kathryn Perry, also of Columbia.
Daniels titled his film “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Amazing Russell,’’ which was shortened by some heartless editor to “Amazing Russell.”
Mark Decena, a San Francisco filmmaker and partner in Kontent Films, was inspired by the five dogs he saw wandering around the Butler, Shine agency during a visit. His Converse commercial is “Dogs,’’ in which dogs in Dolores Park chomp on and try to make their own one of Decena’s black low-top Chuck Taylor All Stars.
“They gave me some new shoes,’’ he said of the ad agency, although he prefers to wear the All Stars he wore and used as a prop the day of the filming. “I’m wearing them today,’’ he said the other day. “It adds to their character to have teeth marks on them.’’
Other ads in the campaign include scenes of some very bad basketball being played, a girls’ rock band practicing in a garage and a young man beating his head against a metal door.
“Amazing Russell,’’ “Dogs’’ and several others have been posted on the Web site.
In Columbia, Daniels, 30, has for years been saving his old black Chuck Taylor high-tops in a bag in the attic of his house. “I knew I would do some art project with the shoes,’’ said Daniels, who uses Super-8 technology and dreams of being a filmmaker while holding onto his day job at WLTX.
He and his actor-friend Smith created “Amazing Russell’’ at an abandoned NASCAR track in Cayce, S.C., to music he and his brother created in a jam, titled “I Can’t Even Think Straight.’’ Converse was spared the lyrics, said Daniels.
The Converse Chuck Taylor model is the most successful sport shoe in history, said Converse’s Maddocks — more than 900 million pairs having been sold since the name and endorsement were added in 1923. Taylor was a 6-footer who played for the Buffalo Germans, Akron Firestones and New York Celtics from 1919 to 1930 and had a long career as Converse’s ambassador.
What made those sales of the Chuck Taylor possible? “It’s unspoiled, timeless,’’ said Converse’s Maddocks. “It’s applicable to all generations as we go through life.’’
by George Raine
Chronicle Staff Writer
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