|An image from 'Remember Who You Are' by Dennis Pinheiro, one of the consumer-made commericals Converse is showcasing.
Last summer, the North Andover, Mass.-based shoe company launched Converse Gallery on its official Web site to showcase commercials created by creatives including independent filmmakers, artists, fashion designers and musicians, among others.
The idea behind Converse Gallery, developed by Sausalito, Calif.-based agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, was to give consumers the chance to express what Converse shoes means to them in the form of a 25-second spot.
After 96 years in business, executives at Converse felt that the brand was an American icon that was "owned" by its consumers who embody self-expressive, creative attributes. (Nike bought Converse in September 2003 as a "flanker" brand, that is, one that would offer an alternative to Nike.)
"We said, fair enough. Put your money where your mouth is," said John Butler, creative director at Butler Shine. "If you believe that, why not let your consumers create the advertising? Why not let them tell us why it's cool? This is a brand worn by artists, athletes and other creative individuals who don't like being sold to. Give them a forum to say something to the world."
Submissions had to be somehow related to the Converse brand.
"They had to have the soul of the brand," Mr. Butler said. "This is not a contest. We weren't looking for someone who made the best commercial. We wanted something that made a statement above and beyond traditional advertising."
The Converse Gallery aimed to reach an audience of 13- to 35-year-olds, made up of various demos including extreme sports enthusiasts, young girls, artists, musicians, basketball players and hip urban professionals.
More than 700 films from 15 countries have arrived so far. Some of those who submitted spots include Mark Decena, a San Francisco filmmaker and partner in Kontent Films; Harry Bliss, an illustrator for The New Yorker; and Steve Daniels, a cameraman at WLTX, the CBS affiliate in Columbia, S.C. Filmmakers receive $10,000 if their spot is chosen.
The films submitted reflect a range of styles and approaches from stop motion and computer animation to live-action music videos, athletic stunts and spots that resemble more traditional ads. Shorts have played with the Converse logo's star and chevron, the shape of the shoes and the brand's heritage.
"We've received some films that would have made great commercials," Mr. Butler said. "But they just felt too on the nose. It felt like a big agency would have created it."
Requesting submissions was risky, however. Butler Shine just didn't know what kind of ads it would receive, or whether they would be good enough to broadcast online or elsewhere.
"There was the risk of getting a lot of crap, but I had faith in the idea and faith in people," Mr. Butler said. "I thought if we got enough submissions some of them had to be good."
The first wave of eight spots was introduced on www.conversegallery.com last August, with 12 spots chosen to air on MTV and other cable channels. A second wave of 13 consumer-created spots was unveiled in November. Additionally, Butler Shine recruited artists to create a series of print ads that targeted readers of various magazines, including Fader, Paper and Giant Robot.
Converse Gallery will launch a third wave of ads on its site and on TV in February, with a series of billboards in five major markets to follow, with imagery created by local artists.
Consumers have been tuning in to the online shorts.
Compared to August 2003 figures, traffic to www.converse.com surged 66% soon after Converse Gallery was launched last August, with more than 1 million people visiting the site and 400,000 people visiting ConverseGallery.com directly. December traffic increased nearly 200% from the year-ago month.
And viewers have turned into customers.
Converse's online shoe sales doubled in just a month after Converse Gallery was introduced, with much of those purchases occurring after people viewed the spots. The company was able to track just how many people clicked on a link at the end of a short that took them to the Converse store on the site.
"If you saw a short that showed a shoe, you could go to the store and buy that shoe," Mr. Butler said. "Where else but the Web can you make a sale directly from a spot?"