Teens rule!

That’s the philosophy behind Bolt.com, a Web site that gives 15- to 20-year-olds a platform to express themselves. Bartle Bogle Hegarty extended the site’s sensibility to its first ad campaign, surrendering the shop’s cameras to teens and letting them record their feelings.

“We said to [the client], ‘You don’t actually need advertising,’ ” says Ty Montague, creative director of the New York outpost. “You need to take your brand premise and move it into television … by buying 30-second spots to provide the context for teens to provide the content.”

And provide they did. The ads run the gamut of teen experience—from heartbreaking to silly. In one spot, a girl thanks her parents for putting her in rehab. In another, a boy confronts his ex-girlfriend about her infidelity. The Bolt logo is visible at the end of the spots with the tagline, “Don’t hold back.”

The spots broke this month during Fox’s reality show American High; they’ll run on select networks and cable channels this fall. They will also be posted on the Web site, where Bolt users will be asked to vote on their favorites. Their votes will determine which ads air.

To find teens to produce the spots, BBH held a casting call, answered by hundreds of teenagers, under the direction of Gregg Hale of Haxan Films, the production company behind The Blair Witch Project.

“We knew we wanted to work with a director,” says Montague of Hale, “though it’s strange to call him a director because 90 percent of the material is directed by teens themselves. But we wanted to get someone involved who is used to bringing a little order to what could be total chaos.”

During the casting call, Hale and the BBH creative team sat down with a list of “conversation starters” to draw ideas out of teens.

“It was interesting to sit in a room and talk to them,” says Hale. “Many of these kids have done a lot of living already. They’re certainly different than how I was when I was 16.”

Those with interesting stories were given equipment and a single directive: Go out and shoot them. Sometimes the production team tagged along; often the teens were on their own.

Out of the 40 pieces of footage the team accumulated, 22 were edited into 30-second spots. While billings were undisclosed, the spots were inexpensive to produce: Each was made for just over $20,000.

Some of the spots have not scored with authority figures. Fox banned four of the ads, including one in which a boy strips naked in a clothing store to protest sweatshop-produced clothes. One girl’s parents were not amused when their daughter pierced her tongue in another. Montague, however, defends the commercials.

“That’s sort of the idea. Have teens express themselves in ways they believe in, not necessarily in ways that are popular,” he says. Teens are also encouraged to submit homemade spots to the site, which, like the others, will be voted on.

Montague sees this collaborative effort as the future of marketing.

“Consumers are beginning to take control over the communication process,” he says. “In the next five years, distinctions between television and the Internet are going to disappear. … We’re entering a Wild West phase in the communications industry.” In this campaign, teens are the new sheriffs in town.