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Converse launches artistic ad campaign

A marketing campaign in several cities, including Boston, will showcase celebrities’ uniquely decorated Chucks -- Converse All Star shoes -- via art installations, murals, videos, and classic ads

(From left) Recording artist King Tuff’s Chuck Taylors are patriotic. Andy Warhol drew and wrote words on his All Stars. Contemporary artist Ron English’s shoes are splattered with paint.

Andy Warhol wrote on his Chucks. The graffiti artist Futura splattered his with paint.

Chuck Taylor sneakers, from Converse Inc., have long been a canvas for artists and part of the uniform of the counterculture set. On Monday, the maker of the nearly century-old shoe launches a new campaign in Boston and nine other cities showcasing how the Chucks worn by creative types and regular customers became a medium for self-expression.

The “Made by you” marketing campaign will feature art installations, virtual reality experiences, wall murals, videos, and traditional advertisements and will run in cities such as Amsterdam, Berlin, Boston, London, Mexico City, and New York. In Boston, North and South stations will be plastered with artistic portraits of dozens of different shoes.


“We felt it was a really great time to be celebrating the Chuck Taylor,” said Ian Stewart, vice president of global marketing at Converse, which is based in North Andover. “It’s something we haven’t done in a long time, if ever, at this scale.”

Converse Rubber Shoe Co. was founded in Malden in 1908 by a Boston department store manager. Nine years later, the company introduced the All Star basketball shoe, commonly referred to as the “Chuck Taylor,” after a onetime basketball player who became the company’s leading pitch man. Converse has sold more than 1 billion Chucks over the years, it says, and despite its original use for basketball, the shoes have endured because of their popularity off the court.

Graffiti artist Futura’s Chucks are, appropriately, decorated with paint.

Wilt Chamberlain wore them during his legendary 100-point game, but so did John Travolta’s band of hoods in “Grease.” Chucks have adorned the feet of popular fictional characters like Marty McFly, Dennis the Menace, Harry Potter, and Rocky Balboa.

The shoe has become an antiestablishment symbol worn by the likes of Kurt Cobain and an acceptable form of fashion on mainstream celebrities like Justin Bieber.


Jay Gordon, an owner of the Boston sneaker boutique Bodega, said it’s hard to pin down exactly why Chuck Taylors have thrived. One big reason, he said, is that despite its popularity, the shoe manages to hold onto a counterculture reputation.

“It has been embraced by true counterculture, which is reinterpreted by generations to follow who want to be perceived as counterculture but are still buying the shoes on Amazon,” Gordon said. “To get adopted by the masses and not get discarded means it has some real staying power.”

Others attribute the phenomenon to smart marketing and other business decisions.

Chucks were introduced as unisex shoes when that was largely unheard of, said Hal Peterson, author of “Chucks!: The Phenomenon of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars.”

He said the company routinely releases new colors and patterns to remain fresh. With all the style options, it’s easy for someone to find a signature pair.

“It’s a shoe that constantly reinvents itself,” he said.

Gordon said the shoe’s history makes it an authentic form of Americana. And it appeals to a wide demographic, he said.

“It’s inner-city. It’s suburban. It’s old and young,” Gordon said. “I still know guys who are in their 40s and 50s and only wear Chucks. That’s their go-to.”

Converse hopes the multiyear campaign recognizes the people who are loyal to the shoe. And there’s a lot of them: Converse, today a subsidiary of Nike Inc., hit $1.7 billion in revenue in 2014, and sales over the past five years have increased 71 percent.



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Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.