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Brand Democracy

Creative folks value their craft. We do what we do because we love it.

Now the unthinkable may become a trend: turning the creating over to the (gasp!) public.

Two weeks ago I went and saw someone who did just this and lived to tell the tale: John Butler of Butler, Shine, Stern and Partners. He came to Portland to present the successful campaign they did for Converse called “Brand Democracy.”

The campaign solicited and incorporated films, artwork and music from the general public for use in ads for the Converse Chuck Taylor shoe. This idea came from the belief that the Chuck Taylor shoe is an American icon and possessed by the public (not Converse).

Butler and his counterparts felt the All-Star show stands for something larger. It was a badge for an entire demographic they called “The New Independents.” This group is unique in that it is inspired and enabled like no generation before it to both learn and create from technology. They make stuff. Lots of it. Icons of this group include Danger Mouse, Sofia Coppola and Mike Mills.

The idea then was to position Converse as being original and supporting those who are original. Mr. Butler and his group decided that this brand and demographic required a unique approach. Starting from the idea that “taglines are evil,” they decided to turn the brand over to the public.

As Mr. Butler put it, “People own this brand, not Converse.”

They decided to position Converse as a patron of the arts, a creative enabler in the spirit of Peggy Guggenheim. They asked people to make a cool film that says something about the brand in 24 seconds (the last 6 seconds of titling was done by Butler Shine). They got the word out through posters and ads at creative schools, in Juxtapoz magazine and through personal contacts. The chosen work (by a student or professional) would air on television and be awarded $10,000. Any other film placed on the Website received $1,000.

The results? Converse received 1500 short films. Mr. Butler and his group went through them and chose the best for the television, and next best for the web gallery. They have since received films by name directors, including Mr. Mos Def.

The campaign was great. The films were solid and full of that unbridled creativity that comes from the gut. It was great to see stuff that wasn’t overly analyzed by rooms of professionals. It went straight to the point.

Unfiltered is good.

I was so impressed that I confess I was left a bit wondering how strongly this trend will extend. Reality TV is old hat; involving everyday folks is proven to be exciting. Will reality advertising and design be next? The Beastie Boys new movie reflects this trend even further. To make their new concert movie, the Beastie Boys distributed Hi8 videocams to 50 fans at a 2004 show in New York City — and combined the footage into a feature film, Awesome; I Fuckin’ Shot That!

Technology is blurring the gap between “professional” and “amateur.” None of the film shorts created for Converse required anything more than a small digital video camera and simple editing software.

Should we be worried? I think not.

We should be inspired.

I think the campaign should be a reminder to us all to not try to nuance every creative problem we face. Sometimes we are too smart for our own good, talking ourselves into a creative corner.

So take notice: Approach every job like an amateur. Be stupid. Ask a lot of questions.

Go with your gut.

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ARCHIVE ID 2682 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON May.09.2006 BY Jimm Lasser
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

nike owns chuck i think

On May.09.2006 at 01:53 AM
Bone’s comment is:

I have not written here (or anywhere for that matter) in a long time. So maybe I am pent up and this is the late-night response I will offer - cynicism and all.

Inspired? ... not really. I'm going with my gut and steering clear.

"Brand Democracy."... This idea came from the belief that the Chuck Taylor shoe is an American icon and possessed by the public (not Converse).

I'm known to be morose in my critiques so why stop now...

I'm calling bullshit on this one.

Converse is not a "patron of the arts" in this case (or is it patron for the arts?). Converse has become the beneficiary.

Let's examine this "Brand Democracy" and the reality of what Converse owns and does not own.

Found in one of the 11 forms you must include with submission - The Submission Agreement, Article 3 - OWNERSHIP:

By submitting the Film and any other material, you agree to transfer, and transfer any and all of your right, title and interest in and to the Film, including but not limited to any and all copyrights, trademark rights, “moral rights” and any and all other rights that may exist, throughout the world, to Converse.

I think they make it pretty clear who OWNS Converse, the Chuck Taylor brand and now your creative work.

Further, they can make derivative works of your submission without prejudice. If you don't believe it, continue reading from that last sentence: As the exclusive owner of all rights in and to the Film, you agree that Converse will have the worldwide, perpetual right to copy, display,reproduce, exhibit, edit, modify, assign, license, register for copyright or trademark, distribute, sell or otherwise use and exploit the Film and all elements and/or derivative works thereof, in whole or in part, alone or with other materials, in any media now known or hereafter created or devised, for any reason whatsoever.

I think the attorneys had a chuckle as they typed the word exploit didn't they Jim?

Everyone take a moment and look up the verb exploit. I'll wait.

I do think it's a grand complement for an honorable word like 'patron'. Don't you?

Say what you will about this being fun, an opportunity, chance for exposure, possibility of making $10K. But, Converse is effectively "commissioning artists" to create original art that promotes their brand with no guarantee of remuneration for that art and then claiming rights to it.

Sorry but you lost. In case you did not understand how much you lost, you just legally gave up the right to show the work as your own. So, forget posting it on your site or using it on your reel to promote your abilities. This from a company - now owned by Nike (2004) - that in the year following it's Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing posted revenue of $205 million.

As for "Brand Democracy", well, that part is correct. But not in idealistic definition we attach to the word - where the People decide who is worthy. It is more in keeping with the "control of an organization or group by the majority of its members" meaning. You the People do not decide who is worthy of this honor. It is the agency and Converse.

As for BS&S and other agencies "turning the creating over to the public" and farming "consumer generated content" and cloaking it behind pallid veneer of "brand democracy" is disheartening. I think it "brand laziness".

Would BS&S have created 1500 :30's for such a paltry sum? How much are they getting paid for coming up with the "idea"? I hope it's a lot because they deserve it. Seriously, they garnered 1500 pieces of creative for their client for under a $million? (NOTE: the Converse site has approximately 69 "films" in the gallery.) That's brilliant and they should be paid fairly if not handsomely.

- -
P.S. - I can't close without mentioning that Converse likening themselves to the great Peggy Guggenheim is unfounded and insulting.

On May.09.2006 at 03:39 AM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

This is an emerging and important avenue of marketing that will definitely not go away anytime soon. Throughout the history of advertising there has never been a more effective pitch than the recommendation of a trusted friend (i.e: word-of-mouth).

Buzz Agent

Citizen Marketer

Now we are seeing a rise of "consumer evangelism" as people embrace and champion their own brand endorsement as a vehichle for self-expression. (There is another thread in that alone...)


A brand truly is owned by the public, and there is money to be made by harnessing that energy. Oh, and and the folks making their own ads have their own channel:

Current TV

and to a certain degree,
You Tube

As I edit I see Bone's post. There are lots of issues in all of this, and the devaluation of the creative "product" is definitely one. This should be a good thread.

On May.09.2006 at 03:59 AM
dan’s comment is:

Go Bones! Tell it like it is.

Converse, like many other large 'hip' companies are really getting stuck into the 'user created content' idea of promotion. I know 'user created content' is normally game orientated - but isn't this one big game!? I fully think Bones is right - this isn't about being democratic - its about being lazy. Any good creative should be 'good' enough to know what the winner of this converse competition wanted to see - hence what they made themselves. The challenge is for designers and creatives to achieve this for ourselves and not become lazy or reliant on "The New Independents" to do it for us.

On May.09.2006 at 04:57 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Bones reveals some good points.

Tapping into the enthusiasm and insights of your customers is generally a good thing. Exploiting that enthusiasm by taking claim of their creative work is not.

The brand is supposedly possessed by the public? But Converse gets to possess all rights to their customer’s creative work. How ironic.

I’m guessing that those who have entered do not presently feel exploited. However, their feelings may change if they discover that they’ve lost control of their work. (Caveat emptor -- read the fine print.)

“Reality TV” finally meets “the logo contest,” and the implications are just emerging.

On May.09.2006 at 08:48 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> Say what you will about this being fun, an opportunity, chance for exposure, possibility of making $10K. But, Converse is effectively "commissioning artists" to create original art that promotes their brand with no guarantee of remuneration for that art and then claiming rights to it.

My feeling is that younger creatives these days are more willing to just do things for the heck of it, for bragging rights, for the 15 seconds of fame (15 minutes is now way too much). With sites like Flickr and YouTube "things" (videos, photos, illustrations) are just up there on the internet with little credit of the creator. "Things" are up for swiping all the time. People seem much less protective of their work as long as a lot more people get to see that work. This is only my guess... I am not saying it's a fact. Converse tapping into this trend is merely a corporation being a corporation and taking advantage of, and reacting to, current modus operandi of their target audience. It seems advantageous and cold, but it's surely not the first time.

I am not defending Converse, but at the same time I don't think people are poor, defenseless, uneducated victims. Just like Bones did, all the 1,500 participants had the opportunity to read the fine print. Assuming that they did (but realizing that maybe 10 read it) they made a decision to submit their work, to give away their rights and I would assume they were okay with it. The target audience chooses to participate, no one is forcing them.

> I fully think Bones is right - this isn't about being democratic - its about being lazy.

I disagree here. Tapping into the public is not lazy. It is recognizing an opportunity that allows the public to be part of something a little larger than their daily routines. Organizing a project of this magnitude for a client this large with such a large number of submissions requires a commitment beyond lazy and I'm sure BSSP realized that. It's also important to remember that good creative firms (and, yes, I would call BSSP a god creative firm) do not have any problems or shortcomings in creating cool stuff for their clients and would be more than happy to show the rest of the world how cool they can make stuff be; so, no, I would not call this solution lazy. And I wouldn't democratic either. Opportunistic and appropriate is more like it.

On May.09.2006 at 09:24 AM
Mandy’s comment is:

This was a spec campaign pure and simple. Converse can dress it up in a toga all they want, but it's still spec. And it still damages the industry as a result. It is an unfortunately common practice that commercial production companies will often pay to produce spec spots for their directors (even often their big name directors) in order to keep their reel fresh and associate them with a "hip" brand. The hope is that the spec work pays off and earns the director more real work later. But for the majority of directors, that is not the case. And rather than an advertising agency approaching a production company or director in a manner respuctful of their abilities (like, say, offering to pay them for their work), these kinds of exploitive "contests" have been invented to get the same work for free. Opportunistic, yes. Appropriate, no.

On May.09.2006 at 10:05 AM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

Converse exploits people for their creativity.

People exploit Converse for their vanity.

People want Fame/Recognition/Props, and Converse
offers that possibility..If you make a deal w/
the Devil, are you naive?

On May.09.2006 at 10:27 AM
danny’s comment is:

Oh lord, the "spec" argument. Does anyone ever just create something for the sake of exploration or (gasp!) pleasure? Sure, I get payed to design things for a living, but if I want to take a stab at the Converse contest on the weekend or after hours, what's the harm?

Next let's pile on Jones Soda for "exploiting" amateur photographers.

On May.09.2006 at 10:55 AM
Mandy’s comment is:

The harm is that it devalues the work you do for a living and makes people think they can get design (or directing, as the case may be) for free. The good folks at No Spec! have done a very good job of explaining this.

On May.09.2006 at 11:15 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

I'm curious about how your comment here squares with the spec ad for Converse on your studio's website.


On the one hand, I'm all for the bit o' fun, and I don't care if Converse uses people's creativity and desire for fame. (The Speak Up Poster Contest was one of my most favourite projects. Damn you & your exploitative practices, Armin!) On the other, I am constantly amazed at the emptiness that some people must have in their lives to show such religious devotion to unnecessary products designed for consumption and disposal.

On May.09.2006 at 11:16 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> This was a spec campaign pure and simple.

I have plenty of work so I can't go into details and long rationalizations, but this is not spec work. Winners are not rewarded with the Converse account based on their work. This is a contest. They are rewarded with a previosuly agreed on and fully-disclosed prize. With spec work you never know what you are getting, even if you are promised fortune and glory.

> Next let's pile on Jones Soda for "exploiting" amateur photographers.

Good call Danny. There are ways – and I think this Converse thing is one of them – in which you can involve the public without the ulterior motive of screwing people and being corporationey.

> Damn you & your exploitative practices, Armin!

Jeff, yes, I now kick it high-style in the Bahamas every other weekend with the proceeds of the poster contest. Suckers!

On May.09.2006 at 11:33 AM
Mandy’s comment is:

The issue with spec is that it doesn't hurt the individuals, but the industry as a whole. My partner directed a Converse spot, and it was, for him, a weekend of playing around and seeing what he came up with. We spent almost nothing on it, and as individuals, had almost nothing to lose.

But having thought about this project and others I have come around to believing it's the kind of thing we shouldn't participate in. First, it's dishonest. Many of the directors who were accepted are working professionals who are represented by major production houses. The folks at Butler, Shine were clever enough to get top work from these folks at significantly-less-than-market value. If they had gone to them up front, they would have paid more, and they wouldn't have had the bogus "brand democracy" bullshit to throw around. They also would have contributed to maybe eventually employing some of the many talented directors who are looking for a break. Instead, they exploited that talent without creating any method for it to ever grow on it's own.

The SpeakUp poster contest was demonstrably different. Everyone who submitted (myself included) not only had their work shown, but retained the copyright. Had SpeakUp sponsored a logo contest, where folks had to submit a new logo and then Armin chose the best one and gave the designer a few hundred bucks as a return, that would have been spec. And, to be honest, if that happened, maybe I would have participated, despite my belief that it was a bad idea. Maybe I would have said, whatever, I'll spend a couple hours on it and see what I come up with, and there's no harm to me if I don't get selected. The problem arises when lots of us collectively fall into that trap, and the work that supports design and produciton studios is no longer worth the price.

On May.09.2006 at 11:56 AM
Mandy’s comment is:

Also, Armin, I respectfully disagree with your definition of spec.

On May.09.2006 at 11:58 AM
Bone’s comment is:

My rant is not with the people who submit. Submit all you want. It's like playing the lottery, you know you have a chance, that chance costs money. You choose to play, so be it.

It is with Converse and the packaging of this campaign as some great gift to the arts. If Converse truly appreciated art and those who created it then they would release rights back to the creator - ideally.

But, in the world of creative capital they simply cannot do that. Once ideas are presented to an entity such as Converse there can be no possibility to return those ideas, else when someone see some slight derivation of their original work, out come the pinstripe suits. So, legally and rightly so Converse is protecting themselves from the possibilty of infringement. Are they wrong to do this? No. This is why creative content publishers like record companies, book publishers, movie studios, etc. do not accept unsolicited material. It is never opened and sent back to the submitter. Else, when that blockbuster movie hits... well you know.

What I find offensive is this facade of openness and grand acknowledgement of creativity and personal creative works and hoisting of Converse as this champion for the arts wrapped around the falsehood, “People own this brand, not Converse.”

@ Armin - I know you are setting a stage of a societal example. But in an attempt to ensure others who read it understand...

Flickr is different. YouTube is different. Swiping is different than this case. Flickr does not own your images. Flickr gives you tools to protect that ownership through a number of means not to mention those at your own disposal. Swiping is not what is going on here in the Converse Gallery. People are willfully transferring rights to their creative work. Again, play if you want.

Flickr nor YouTube nor any other provides for copyright infringement any more so than someone posting the same material on their own site. It only provides greater access. Converse's campaign is not about access - at least not in this vein.

"It seems advantageous and cold, but it's surely not the first time."
Of course it's not the first time. Still, doesn't make it reasonable.

On the use of the word LAZY. You are right, it is not a small endeavor. I was not saying there was not a lot of time and money has to be spent to pull this off. Those 11 legal forms alone were not lazily put together. Also, don't put words in my mouth as though I said BSSP was not a good agency and they don't do creative work. The reason I said "brand laziness" (3:30 AM will do that) was again a reaction to this idea of "brand democracy" which is a false pretense to put this under. Most recent "contest" events have been more forthright - yet still misguided - as in the BBC's Redesign our Home Page Get a Laptop example.

Opportunistic? Yes. Appropriate, I think not. More aptly it is appropriate FOR THE TIMES, but this does not make it right.

@ danny - If I want to make a 24 second - hell a 24 hour - film about my passion for Converse I can do it. And it would be mine. I could post it on a website, lock it in a vault, burn it, whatever I wish because it would be mine. Converse would not own it. I see no harm in that.

No need to pile on Jones Soda. Not a good call. They have a very palatable sense of community and belief in the ownership of one's work. Again, read their Terms and Conditions - Article 5: ... You are the owner of all materials submitted by you ...

@ Jeff - As Mandy said, Speak Up Poster contest was demonstrably different.

Again, I am not damning those who participate. I just have a problem with the lofty credo given to such an endeavor. A spade is a spade.


- -

P.S. I am quite possibly more disturbed by the Peggy Guggenheim correlation today than I was last night.

On May.09.2006 at 12:52 PM
vibranium’s comment is:

All verbos-ness aside. It's a gimmick...but because it such a well orchastrated one it's getting over analyzed. It's well stated and well conceived. but it's not branding. it's a promotion.

last time i looked 'america' isn't a handful of technocrati with camcorders and editign software. 'america' is more diverse then that. saying 'chuck taylors 'brand' belong to america not converse (or hello, nike)' says....nothing. but says it well.

I love the work of butler, and I love this campaign, but it's not spec and it's not branding. it's a gimmick.

On May.09.2006 at 01:04 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

There seems to be some confusion and
controversy regarding the definitions of
"contest" and "spec". We should all probably
come to a consensus before hell breaks loose.

From www.no-spec.com:

“Spec” has become the short form for
any work done on a speculative basis.
In other words, any requested work for
which a fair and reasonable fee has not
been agreed upon, preferably in writing.

If we go w/ that definition, contests
ARE spec work..but let's examine the reward
systems for both:

Contests: You might win $$ or a prize.

Spec Work: You might get an account, which
eventually leads to $$.

Then, there is the legal "thang":

Contests: You might retain ownership of your work,
but often times not so.

Spec Work: You probably won't retain ownership.

From this analysis, contests and spec work
are just different words for more or less the
same thing.

Does anybody care to add to this?

On May.09.2006 at 02:33 PM
mark notermann’s comment is:


This absolutely IS branding, just because the creative work is supplied by general submission, the strategy was conceived by an agency. And it can be argued that this is LESS a gimmick than many other types of advertising.


Spec Work consists of giving away professional services you would otherwise normally charge for.

Contests consist of giving away hobby work for nothing.

The problem in our industry happens when professionally trained/skilled people enter the contest game as a means of garnering publicity to jumpstart a career or business.

On May.09.2006 at 03:36 PM
Mandy’s comment is:

That put's the onus on the people doing the work, as opposed to those asking for it. An alternative could be:

Spec work consists of asking for work for free when you would otherwise normally pay for it.

Contests consist of asking for submissions of work from which you can't earn any money and wouldn't otherwise pay for.

On May.09.2006 at 04:21 PM
Brian Alter’s comment is:

Interesting distinction between spec work (professionals) and contest work (hobbyists). To paraphrase Bone, nobody's putting a gun to your head to make stuff for free. But I don't think you can distill it down between professionals and hobbyists. As I understand it, there were no limitations made as to who could submit a work, hobbyists, professionals, the homeless. So it's a professional obligation to stay out of a contest that applies to one's trade? If I'm a filmmaker and I enter this contest for fun does it become a hobby project? Seems like the only reason a contest like this exists is the possibility professional recognition.

On May.09.2006 at 04:50 PM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

Contests consist of asking for
submissions of work from which you can't
earn any money and wouldn't otherwise pay for.

Mandy, that doesn't quite sound right to me.
There are contests out there where one could
"earn" money – the Converse contest in which
chosen commericials yielded 10k to each winner.

What do you mean by "wouldn't otherwise pay for?

In a logo contest, one wouldn't normally pay
for a logo?

On May.09.2006 at 05:25 PM
Mandy’s comment is:

There was no guarantee that a submission would reap the award so it can't be qualified as renumeration. And $10,000 for a 30 second spot is the equivalent of $250 for a logo. It's bottom of the barrel, way less than any company would ever be able to produce it for. Many of these spots were shot on 35mm film or animated by top production companies - they cost significantly more than $10,000 just to make let alone what the labor of the directors/animators/composers/producers/etc. would have cost.

I would suggest that a logo contest—where a client who would ordinarily pay many thousands of dollars to have a logo designed instead sponsors a "contest" where designers submit logos for free in the hopes that they might get chosen and win a small award and/or eternal fame—is in fact, spec. You can call it a contest, you can call it democracy, it's still spec.

By wouldn't otherwise pay for I meant the kinds of contests where the work being submitted isn't the kind of work a client needs and would pay for if the contest method wasn't available. Things like poster contests, where the group asking for the posters wouldn't have otherwise commissioned posters for a fee, fit into this category (e.g., SpeakUp's poster contest). The work being created doesn't have a commercial value, so it can't be exploited. A 30 second broadcast promo or a logo, on the other hand, do have a commercial value. And an increasingly underappreciated one at that.

On May.09.2006 at 06:24 PM
marian bantjes’s comment is:

I'm firmly with Bone on this one (does that sound dirty?).

I also took immediate offense to the Peggy Guggenheim reference. Not only does a sponsor to the arts not take ownership of your work, they also don't tell you what to make it about or take your moral rights (i.e the right to alter the work).

And this is, indeed, spec work. There is absolutely no difference between this and a logo contest except that there is more than one "winner."

But a note on contracts. I'm not going to make any assumptions on the literacy or legal savvy of the people who entered this contest, but I think it's safe to say that most of them are not aware of what they agreed to. I've seen quite a few contracts for creative services lately, and they've always contained unacceptable clauses of this nature. I've never had any problem getting them changed, but the response is often "Gee, no one's ever noticed/complained about that before." So my impression is that even many professionals sign contracts without looking at them too closely.

I am reminded of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics logo contest where apparently a local native man was insensed after-the-fact, when he realized he'd signed away the rights to his family crest (a non-winning entry). Incredibly stupid, sure, but also not unexpected.

On May.09.2006 at 08:30 PM
Mr.Frankie L’s comment is:

Things like poster contests, where the group asking for the posters wouldn't have otherwise commissioned posters for a fee, fit into this category (e.g., SpeakUp's poster contest). The work being created doesn't have a commercial value, so it can't be exploited.

I agree with you about contests being spec work.

With regards to the Speakup poster contest, even
though there wasn't necessarily a demand for Veer
to have one; if I'm not mistaken, Veer did ultimately
make profit on it (Armin, Bryony correct me if I'm off).
If they made profit on it, then there was a degree
of commercial value. If there was commercial value,
then it was technically exploitive --despite the
fact that designers retained ownership of their
work; it is still a type of spec work; just easier
on the handshake.

I think whether or not a designer should enter
a contest/spec work is really going to be based
on the context. Yeah generally we don't want to
do free work, but there is always a but...

On May.09.2006 at 08:45 PM
amy p’s comment is:

When consumer-generated advertising goes wrong. I mean awesome.

On May.09.2006 at 10:13 PM
Mark Notermann’s comment is:

OK Brian, the professional/hobbyist distinction has holes, not the least of which is that our industry has no clear definition of 'professional' other than one who gets paid.

A professional that has more business than they can handle has no problem turning down spec.

It's supply and demand, and there's a plentiful supply of young creative talent.

here's a thought about spec/contest:

In dealing with the issue of speculative, or “spec,” design there is often confusion with the terms “contest” and “competition.” A legitimate design “competition” will always be for design work already created by a designer and most often in use by the client. Such competitions will not require designers to create new work on a “spec” basis to be considered for awards, recognition or prizes. Design competitions may be a valuable marketing and promotion tool for design professionals.

Jeff Fisher, No-Spec

It seems like this is another case of "the desktop publisher will eat the design industry," only now its the "desktop filmmaker/recording studio / illustrator / designer" will eat the ad industry.

On May.10.2006 at 03:11 AM
Jeff Gill’s comment is:

The following has nothing to do with either the retention of copyright or the lack thereof or with doing real spec (which I don't).

I'm going to step on a few toes and say that the backlash against customer/amateur generated stuff sounds to me like people who paid a whole lot of money for their educations and are personally offended by the idea of a guy with a video camera and iMovie getting recognition that they don't 'deserve' because they aren't 'professionals'. It sounds like people who are afraid that they will lose their careers (or hoped-for careers) because the industry is changing and the skillset that they paid so much money to acquire is in danger of becoming irrelevant.

Overheard in the scriptorium:
Bloody Gutenburg and his bloody printing press! Everyone with a box of metal letters thinks he's a book designer these days. Some of these idiots are even printing books for free just for the attention they'll get. And when they do sell them--well most monks won't even get out of bed for that kind of money...

On May.10.2006 at 06:05 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

If you build it, they will come. That statement holds true for baseball diamonds built in Iowa cornfields and any advertisement/marketing campaign that allows consumers participation. Building a brand through customer interaction and participation is nothing new, but more and more we see this type of marketing as commonplace. The bigger question is, Why?

Is it because marketing/comm studios are running out of their own ideas? Perhaps.

Is it because consumers really know the brands better than anybody else? I don't buy this as much as I buy the fact that Converse wants to let consumers feel like they know the brand.

Is it just part of our zeitgeist, during a time of blogs, vlogs, podcasts, and media transparency? Surely. This could never have happened during the 80s, in a time when Bird and Johnson endorsed the brand with "battles" between the "Weapon" clad ballplayers. But look beneath the hip vids because Nike/Converse wants to build loyalty, and moreover, it's how they will scout for new talent lurking beneath the video cameras and iPods of today's youth. Let's not fool ourselves, this all smells like American Idol, only without the bad fashion, tribute songs, and teased up hair. Why spend a fortune on a top name firm when we can look for somebody who does it better and cheaper, hungry to do fresh work that hasn't been seen before.

On May.10.2006 at 07:37 AM
Armin’s comment is:

> if I'm not mistaken, Veer did ultimately
make profit on it (Armin, Bryony correct me if I'm off).

Frankie, I don't have facts and figures, but from the beginning we all knew we were doing this to at least break even on the printing and shipping costs. Don't tell Bryony, but from our end, I think we didn't. I suck at numbers. If Veer made a profit I'm sure it wasn't enough to give their employees thouand dollar bonuses at the end of the year.

> Flickr is different. YouTube is different.

Yes, of course they are different from this Converse situation. The point I was trying to make is that people are much more comfortable putting their work online without giving it too much thought about where it will end up. People seem to enjoy having their stuff looked at by a bunch of strangers, and the thrill that must come from getting Boing Boinged or Dugg keeps people putting their work up for all to see. I feel that this new openness on the internet breeds the care-free attitude of submitting work to things like Converse's campaign.

On May.10.2006 at 08:40 AM
dan’s comment is:

How much would a 'creative' company charge for 69-ish funky, cool, hip, rad, primo (what ever you want to call the 'arty' results) adverts to relate to the Converse target audience...?

I think most of the results seen in the converse gallery would have been charged out for a lot more than $1000.00 - so I retract my use of the word lazy and replace it with the word 'cheap'.

Despite my negativity - Jeff - I’m not worried about ‘losing’ my job to a young punk with a video camera because a) I don’t have a ‘job’ and b) im young-ish enough and make stupid videos for fun – I’m more worried about the reliance of this demographic to drive brands – what happens when they reject the brand (see through the competitions) and realise they were working for the beast.

On May.10.2006 at 09:02 AM
Mr. Frankie L’s comment is:

what happens when they reject the brand (see through the competitions) and realise they were working for the beast.

When they realize they are working for the beast,
they scratch their tails.

On May.10.2006 at 09:49 AM
Mandy’s comment is:

It should be noted that many of these videos were not produced by amateurs. There are directors included from some of the biggest commercial production companies in the US, including DNA, Radical Media, Merge Films, Revolver Films, Anonymous, and others. Many of these companies have directors represented in the gallery with several films each, and many of them have been shot on film or clearly required teams of people to complete. Either the premise of the "contest" is bogus—and these videos were produced at market rates—or else the production companies that represent these videos took a loss in order to associate their directors with a "hip" brand. The effect of this campaign on the economics of the business is pretty clear.

And to respond to Jeff, I am not concerned about the increase of amateurs on the business. I didn't go to design school myself, and I'm a firm believer that all that matters is how talented you are, not where you were trained or how much you spent on your degree. I'd love to see advertising agencies hiring young punks to produce their work, if for no other reason that it would (hopefully) be something different to see. But no industry can survive if people believe they deserve its services for free.

On May.10.2006 at 10:16 AM
Jordan’s comment is:

Ooooh more D.I.Y type discussion.

I think this is idea fantastic, how clever of Converse and John Butler. In the last few weeks I've given much thought as to what separates "pro" and "amateur" designers, and decided firmly that it is process that differentiates the two. John Butler is a pro, while the makers of the videos may or may not be.

I would define process as the exhaustion of all relevant written, conceptual, and visual aspects of a given project. Amateurs don't have time for this, nor do they typically have the capacity. Amateurs simply execute, and work from start to end while asking questions like “How do I?” The decision to invite the public into the process was made by a pro, so one might say that instead of using conventional mediums such as the computer, John Butler & Crew used people.

Lastly, I think a correction is in order for the statement "Technology is blurring the gap between 'professional' and 'amateur.' If one is to make this statement, it might be best to say "accessible technology," but really isn't this a given? Hasn't it been happening for the last 100 years?

On May.10.2006 at 12:52 PM
Bone’s comment is:

Well, looky here.

Just announced yesterday - the virus has spread to my home state.

Asheville Seeks Visitors to Create Next TV Commercial

Asheville: Any Way You Like It.

Quoting the article:

"With the prevalence of mini DVs, digital cameras and even cell phones, who is in a better position to capture the unique, enriching, memorable moments in a vacation than the travelers themselves," explained Marla Tambellini, Asheville Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) assistant vice president and marketing director.

Who is in a better position to capture the unique, enriching, memorable moments in a vacation than the travelers themselves? Guess it's not the agency.

With the saying "nothing new under the sun" not withstanding, are we really this completely out of ideas?

- Bone

On May.10.2006 at 01:04 PM
fake-licks specwell’s comment is:

If anyone needs a free logo, icon, video
of me shaving sagmeister's testicles in the shower,
or poster celebrating such an event, pls e mail
me immediately. Pls take your Converse's
off before entering studio.

-fame-lix catch hell (aka:freelix spankwell)

On May.10.2006 at 01:57 PM
JenB’s comment is:

This ad campaign of Converse’s has really ruffled some feathers and for very good reasons but I also wonder if the reasons given here are merely a veneer to hide the fear that designers have of a changing industry.

Adapt or die, baby. Everyone is trying to get as much as they can for as little as they can spend. Corporations are humans on steroids x100. IT’s THE WAY IT IS!!! If you don’t like it – you can’t just sit back and whine yourself to sleep in a beer stupor trying to numb how offended you are.

Is it or is not spec work? Is it or is it not taking advantage of innocent people? Is it or is it not just laziness?

I cast my vote:
Not spec work
Not taking advantage of innocent people
Not lazy

Someone cringed when the term DIY was introduced to this thread – but you can keep cringing just like I do every time I hear the term “brand”.

But DIY is where it’s at – and one arm of that crazy octopus is corporations and publications providing a conduit for humans to interact with each other – rebelling from the idea that they don’t know what they are doing. Why not allow a creative free for all? It’s been stifled in every person since kindergarten – we should be celebrating the opportunities presented to let it loose.

Come on people! This may be a flawed campaign but overall it rocks! Despite your party pooper bitter laments.

One last thing, I want to give another difference between amateurs (BTW: how many actual “amateurs were represented in the pile of ads anyway? Everyone seemed to have some sort of cred) and professionals. Professionals have to go through the arduous task of presenting and fighting and ultimately revising and dumbing down their designs whereas amateurs just hang it all out there – mistakes and all and it either goes as is or not.

And isn’t that what makes us Human? Our mistakes? A little less polished, a little less slick, taking out the tasty and adding the gritty. And isn’t that what we are drawn to ultimately? Love of the less than perfect – more than perfection itself.

I’m just sayin’....

On May.10.2006 at 05:23 PM
Armin’s comment is:

In The New York TimesAn Agency's Worst Nightmare: Ads Created by Users.

On May.12.2006 at 12:51 PM
Greg’s comment is:

Great link, Armin. I loved what the executive said about relinquishing control. Imagine what would happen if they relinquished control to a professional rather than an amat... wait, that guy was a professional. Why did he do this again? Maybe to boost his portfolio, but then what's the purpose of boosting a portfolio if ads are going to be made by "gritty" amateurs who win $1,000 contests? Kind of degrades the profession as a whole. Maybe I should just start entering every logo contest I can find now, so that I can keep eating. Is it any different?

On May.12.2006 at 03:22 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

How does the crude old saying go?

"Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?"

I guess if you're willing to give it away...

On May.12.2006 at 04:15 PM
marko savic’s comment is:

Oh man, you professional designers are most ridiculous. Perhaps as a student (and in the summer term no less – no studios!) I have a different perspective on this. As soon as I read the story I thought, Oh man, I so would have rocked that! Maybe I've grown up in this era of the digital smorgesborg.

I have all my photos on Flickr. I have all my videos on YouTube. My entire life on LiveJournal. All my writing is freely available. Could someone steal it all, and make a profit off it? Probably. Would that have changed my reason for making it? Not once. I created everything because I wanted to. It's a hobby. It's up there for exposure.

Someone on Flickr was viewing my photos from a recent trip to LA, and e-mailed me asking about places to visit, hotels to stay at etc. I made a new friend. Someone on LiveJournal started reading me almost 2 years ago. She got so enthralled with mine and my friends design work, she applied to and now attends my program – halfway across Canada.

My best friend Nicole, a very eccentric business student, is always on MySpace. She loves looking at peoples creative work, their photos, their t-shirts, their paintings, their editorial spreads they did for class. She always sends me other peoples work, strangers from around the world. Its amazing. I always find myself jealous of the raw creativity in these "amatures."

I go to school for design because I love creating. I love the challenge, the pressure. Design (to quote Grey's Anatomy) is like surgery. It's the marine's. We're hardcore. We're workaholics with God complexes. And so when we have the chance to do something ridiculous, even if its at a loss or supposedly detrimental to our industry, where is the harm?

I realize where spec work becomes harmful to the value of creative work. That's part of the corporate beast. What's required isn't the union of designers to boycott competitions, because there will always be students and amateurs to enter these. What is to say the client who posts for spec work would pay a full studio fee anyway? These are the people who want a logo for $500 done yesterday. I digress, it's late. The corporate structure needs to change. Get the word out about design. Give some guest lectures at business schools if you really want to bring the industry forward. Designers aren't the only ones who need a design education.

At the end of the day, doesn't it bring more awareness to what design is?

I think the lesson here isn't so much about spec work, but our approach to design. How many people got into the industry because of a hobby? Why should your only motivation be money? What kind of world do we live in anymore?

Sorry for the rambling. Perhaps I'm still too young and eager to fully understand Mandy's perspective on this, and too tired to be short-winded.

Sidenote: This is probably incorrect, but my interpolation to explain myself nevertheless. Wouldn't the monk have copied the bible as his work for God, and his reward being enhanced spirituality – a labour of love? The money wouldn't go to him, but the Church. Is that not the same form of exploitation?

On May.13.2006 at 03:32 AM
mark notermann’s comment is:

At the end of the day, doesn't it bring more awareness to what design is?

No. It makes it a product and not a process.

Designers aren't the only ones who need a design education.

But it seems designers definitely need a bit of business education.

Marko, the community building aspects of the internet are just starting to bear fruit. It sounds like the exposure you speak of is not the same as fame. It's just putting your self out there to make connections. I'm with you there.

This Converse campaign is not even close to a parallel with $500 logos. I'm sure the campaign cost Converse more as a contest than if BSSP had done the creative themselves. And that the contest winners were NOT amateurs sending in camcorder shorts but professionals (in the main) is what is truly upsetting here.

People DO own the brand, and having them create the ad content, when appropriate, is fine. It's the rights issues and the overall business practices that should be under scrutiny. BSSP should be taken to task for this because they too are a creative firm(s). Ironically, they have a tie to No-Spec with the postfolio night event. They seem to be playing both sides of this.

On May.13.2006 at 04:46 AM
mark notermann’s comment is:

postfolio should be portfolio. How Freudian

On May.13.2006 at 04:49 AM
nick shinn’s comment is:

Surely they shouldn't have accepted work by professionals? The federal government (prompted by a competitor) may want to prosecute them for misleading advertising. At the very least, a competitor may want to mock them for their so-called "amateur" advertising. It's one thing to buy stuff that's made by exploiting workers in the third world, quite another to rip-off fellow Americans.


Julian Stallabrass in "Art Lite" sought a definition of art, and came to the conclusion that the only satisfactory definition was that it was something done by people who had been to art school. Whether or not they are paid for it, or any skill was involved. So having been an art student, or declared a related profession on your income tax return, would disqualify you from participating in this ad campaign. There is a clear distinction between hobbyist and professional -- on one's CV, and with the IRS. It's not about access to prosumer tools, or how exciting and creative the work is.


Marco, not everbody who goes into graphic design is independently wealthy like you -- some hope to earn enough to pay off their education loans :-)

On May.13.2006 at 02:26 PM
mark notermann’s comment is:

It's one thing to buy stuff that's made by exploiting workers in the third world, quite another to rip-off fellow Americans.

....say WHAT?

On May.14.2006 at 02:16 AM
marko savic’s comment is:

Surely they shouldn't have accepted work by professionals? The federal government (prompted by a competitor) may want to prosecute them for misleading advertising.

So are politicians not allowed to vote? This reasoning is terrible. If they (the people who submit) are expressing their idea of the brand through video, why does it matter if they have more or less training in any given field?

Marco, not everbody who goes into graphic design is independently wealthy like you -- some hope to earn enough to pay off their education loans :-)

I'll have you know, I work 3 jobs while pursuing my degree full time. My parents aren't paying for my education. And please, that's Marko with a k. If you want to earn enough to pay off your loan, then you'll have to work for it. If your work is good enough, you'll have great clients and won't need to rely on spec work.

Whether working every hour of the day makes me independently wealthy or not isn't the issue, its that you assume I'm sitting on some high horse saying "Design for money? Who needs money?" My argument was never that design should be free, cheap or done on spec, but rather, that I'm so in love with what I do that I wouldn't mind putting in the extra hours – to practice, to flex my skills and to have fun. Sometimes it isn't about money, and sometimes you're too busy to have fun.

On May.14.2006 at 04:38 AM
nick shinn’s comment is:

why does it matter if they have more or less training in any given field?

Apologies for mis-spelling your name, Marko.
Nothing wrong with politicians voting, or advertisers using their client's product.
And in fact, the campaign isn't misleading, I was taking the company's internal "brand democracy" tag as something that's used in public. So yeah, it's very clever how they did this.

If your work is good enough, you'll have great clients and won't need to rely on spec work.

That's a self-fufilling argument.
But what about the 90% of your fellow students who won't be as successful as you?

On May.14.2006 at 01:32 PM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

Why should your only motivation be money?

Marko -- by all means, lend your creative services to worthy not-for-profit educational organizations, or arts organizations, or organizations that preserve cultural treasures, or organizations that help society’s least represented. It will be good for them, and it will be good for you.

Why, however, -- WHY would you want to give away your work to a for-profit corporation who will then turn around and claim ownership rights to that very work?!!?

This deal has all the virtue of a casting couch.

On May.15.2006 at 09:30 AM
marko savic’s comment is:

Why, however, -- WHY would you want to give away your work to a for-profit corporation who will then turn around and claim ownership rights to that very work?!!

Because I had fun doing it, and the experience and personal rewards are mine, and no one but me can ever have ownership of those.

On May.16.2006 at 02:00 AM
Daniel Green’s comment is:

One final thought for you, Marko:

Giving freely of oneself is generally good for one's soul. Having that gift expoited by others is generally not. One can't ultimately control how any gift is used by others, but one can be mindful of the circumstances underwhich it is given.

Proceed with caution.

On May.18.2006 at 08:28 AM
mark notermann’s comment is:

click to see the full picture

On May.18.2006 at 04:03 PM
mark notermann’s comment is:

click to see the full picture

On May.18.2006 at 04:03 PM