Converse's Chuck Taylor, the stitched-canvas, rubber-toed basketball shoe, is somehow at home everywhere from magazine spreads to mosh pits. So it's no surprise that celebrities from Andy Warhol to George Harrison, Kristen Stewart to Tommy Lee have all laced up a pair of Chucks at one time or another. It would be easy for Converse to get marketing mileage solely from this fact, but the brand's latest campaign goes beyond how celebrities wear their Chucks to spotlight something even more interesting: how you wear yours, dude.
Converse's "Made by You" campaign, which launches today, will display thousands of portraits of people in their Converses, mingling shots of celebrities with photos of stars you've never met—street kids, artists, musicians and everyday iconoclasts. These global citizens not only have a brand of sneaker in common, but an individual, unapologetic way of wearing them. As vp-general manager of brand and segments Geoff Cottrill explained, "People have used Converse as a badge for self-expression for decades now."
"Made by You" will exhibit that self-expression. Converse spent months roaming global cities like Tokyo, Berlin and São Paulo in search of creative individuals doing their thing with their Chucks on (people, as Cottrill put it, "who see the world through the lens of their sneakers"). Then, with a creative assist from agency Anomaly, it photographed them all.
The portraits will appear in a street-level "gallery" in New York's Flatiron district, care of 16-foot-tall light boxes, with an added activation via Google Cardboard that allows visitors to virtually immerse themselves in the portraiture. Converse fans who don't live in New York will be able to view and share the portraits through social media feeds including Instagram and Facebook.
Media images of cool people wearing cool clothes are hardly a new idea in advertising, but "Made by You" actually inverts a number of branding conventions. Rather than spotlighting the product, Converse is effectively casting the consumer's personality as its brand, using its sneaker as a means of expressing it. And unlike fashion labels that fuss over flawless product shots, Converse is comfortable showing its sneakers in their as-worn state—marked up, beat down and otherwise customized. "Each tear has a story," Cottrill said. "There are few brands that celebrate customers doing what they want with their products."
That degree of confidence, said veteran brand consultant Hayes Roth, principal of HA Roth Consulting, is why Converse's approach works. "They've very clear on what the brand is about," he said. "They've always been about the street in a lot of ways, and this is a demonstration of their strength, viability and authority." Rather than marketing performance, as other footwear brands do, Converse concerns itself with individual style, whatever that may look like. "They've taken a countercultural course," Roth said. "And it's working very nicely for them."