Can Fashion Disconnect to Reconnect?

NEW YORK — Is fashion advertising effective when it’s incongruous with images conjured by a brand’s products? Or does the disconnect erode...

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NEW YORK — Is fashion advertising effective when it’s incongruous with images conjured by a brand’s products? Or does the disconnect erode a brand’s franchise with consumers?

That depends on who one asks.

The good news for the fashion business is that it has focused mainly on advertising product, rather than brand building via concise, customer-centric verbal messages and emotionally appealing visual metaphors. Paradoxically, the sector has more leeway than most to serve up ad images disconnected to the apparel itself. As Kevin Roberts, chief executive officer worldwide at Saatchi & Saatchi, observed, “Fashion ads don’t express creative ideas; they have a look. They’re like wallpaper and the consumer couldn’t care less.

“Fashion ads that don’t [focus on] a product can be successful, if they are consistent with a brand’s equity, convey a creative idea and touch the consumer in a time and place where she’s receptive,” Roberts added, citing Kenneth Cole’s socially conscious-to-humorous advertising as an example.

Further, people expect fashion players to live on the edge and, as a result, apparel brands gain more ready acceptance when they veer away from people’s traditional notions about their goods, a dozen brand consultants, advertising executives and marketing specialists agreed. Indeed, some nonfashion brands associate themselves with the world of style in order to glean some of that cachet.

A case in point: Canon’s current campaign for its PowerShot digital camera, which shows the small, slim silver-and-black item nestled against a woman’s calf, tucked under the strap of her sexy, black sandal on a silver stiletto heel. “Canon is trying to capitalize on the design element of the camera and associate it with luxury,” said Jill Glover, president and executive creative director of Glover Group, whose clients include Eileen Fisher, Joseph Abboud and Ecco.

That’s where the consensus ends, however.

In one camp are those who contend apparel brands are less likely to break through the marketing and media clutter with images that depart from their DNA — despite a fashion consumer who tends to be more open to unexpected marketing messages than customers for other products. This group points to the overwhelming amount of stimuli Americans encounter in their everyday lives, including an average of 3,000 ad impressions and 1,500 trademarked products daily, according to market researchers. Thus, the disbelievers in disconnect reason, ad messages that fly in the face of a brand’s accustomed associations are likely to be lost in the media mist.

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