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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“We have found the more creative consonance an ad has with a brand’s attributes, the more likely the ad is to get higher levels of attention and awareness from the consumer,” said Robert Passikoff, president of Brand Keys, a marketing consultant specializing in customer loyalty. “The question is how far a brand can stray from consonant images before people fail to believe in it.” One such trap to avoid, advised Renegade Marketing president Drew Neisser, is trying too hard to be cool. “To throw a curve ball can be very tempting, but it’s very foolish for brands to pretend to be cool when they’re not,” Neisser said, in referring to our society’s nonstop marketing blitz.

If fashion marketers push too far into the realm of dissonant images, indulging in what some dismiss as creativity for creativity’s sake, Passikoff, for one, has conducted studies that show those campaigns are likely to:

  • Lose people’s attention.

  • Prompt people to think less highly of the brand advertised.

  • Prompt people to think of another brand.

For example, Passikoff said, after Calvin Klein ran a lot of black-and-white ads with teen models in sexy poses, “everyone thought of Calvin Klein any time they saw a similar black-and-white ad, because he owned the look.”

Although advertising is critical in today’s world, Michael Watras, ceo of brand identity consultant Straightline International, asserted, “It must be connected in some way with the brands we live with. To get a return out of an ad, there has to be a better connection than the Marc Jacobs ads with photos of Juergen Teller and Charlotte Rampling [canoodling] in bed, or the Toscani shock ads for Benetton, in years past,” Watras maintained.

In large part, that’s because consumers are much more sophisticated than they were 10 years ago — better informed, and more caring and discerning about various goods, observers pointed out. In addition, Chapel Hill, N.C.-based marketing consultant Yankelovich Partners found in April that two-thirds of Americans feel constantly bombarded with too much marketing, 59 percent believe most marketing has very little relevance to them and 69 percent are interested in products or services that can help them avoid marketing pitches. As a result, said Michael Silverstein, author of “Trading Up: The New American Luxury” (Portfolio), people now have several screens for ads: Is the ad relevant? Does it teach me anything? Am I trustful of the image? Does it impact my behavior?

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