The government is looking for 12 run down High Streets in England to share £1m as part of plans proposed by TV retail guru Mary Portas.
Areas will bid for support from a dedicated team and Ms Portas herself.
The scheme was described as a "golden ticket" for town centres by local government minister, Grant Shapps.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils, has said that the pilot "simply tinkers around the edges".
"We urge the government to step up and give councils some real power," said its spokesman Peter Box.
"Councils don't want to see short-term schemes - instead they want to see some firm action and a commitment from all government departments and agencies."
But ministers said it was hoped other towns would "adopt and implement the ideas" in the pilots.
'Innovative ideas' wanted
Mr Shapps said that town centres had to become "a destination" to rival out-of-town shopping centres and the internet.
"What we're looking for are innovative ideas, towns who are prepared to come together, put together their own town-teams, involving retailers and landlords and probably their local council and MP, to put their proposals forward that work in their particular area."
He said the video applications, which must be submitted by 30 March, should not be professionally made, but "just YouTube style things".
A spokesman at the Department for Communities and Local Government added: "Far from tinkering around the edges, these pilots will have every opportunity to bring real and lasting change to the role of our High Streets to turn them into places local people want to be.
"We want to see ambitious and innovative schemes that test the potential of the recommendations Mary Portas put forward."
No magic bullet
The British Retail Consortium, which represents Britain's retail industry, has been positive about the plan but pointed out that £1m spread amongst 12 town centres will not go far.
"High streets are a fundamental part of our communities and need to move with the times," said Tom Ironside, director of business at the British Retail Consortium in a statement.
"Introducing pilots to address specific local issues could identify new innovations and approaches which might also work elsewhere. But this is no magic bullet and must be accompanied by other steps, as swiftly as possible."
In the same statement Mr Ironside called for a change to the 5.6% rate of tax for business rates which is set to come into effect in April.
Ms Portas, the star of TV show Mary Queen of Shops, was appointed to advise the government on town centres in 2011.
As part of her review, Ms Portas recommended that town centres be managed through new "town teams" who would be responsible for developing businesses in the area.
The competition acts on this and introduces town teams, made up of landlords, shopkeepers, residents, and the local authority and asks them to come up with a vision for their High Street.
Other ideas from her review range from introducing market stalls and free parking schemes to cutting restrictions on night-time deliveries.