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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“If an ad doesn’t connect within four or five seconds, people turn away, as they are bombarded with so many images daily,” noted Silverstein, who also is executive officer in the office of the ceo at Boston Consulting Group. “That limits the effect of shock ads or any ads disconnected from a product’s attributes or a brand’s equity.”

In the realm of fashion, Diesel, French Connection, Benetton, Abercrombie & Fitch, Christian Dior, Levi’s Type One and Gap, as well as Kenneth Cole, were commonly cited as brands whose advertising — at times, if not consistently — has been discordant with the impressions made by their goods. Most of them have done so successfully, observers said, with the notable exceptions of the Levi’s Type One Super Bowl commercial this year, an animated cartoon fantasy of stampeding bulls on a highway, and Gap’s black-and-white “Gap. For Every Generation” campaign of August 2002. Both Gap and Levi’s were criticized for losing the plot informing their brand stories in a desperate grab for attention. In Gap’s case, ironically, there was a chasm between the stark, black-and-white celebrity photographs and the merchandise in-store, as well as a muddled message from a store whose name — and original premise — spoke to a generation gap between youth and adults and what each group wanted to wear. And the Levi’s Type One spots left some wondering why the jeanswear giant eschewed its aura of authenticity, the very basis of the brand’s equity.

“Did I connect to the Levi’s Type One [Super Bowl] commercial? No,” said Eric Scott, ceo of Wolff Olins USA, a London-based brand consultant. “Levi’s is supposed to be about the authentic jean, so I didn’t get it. It had to be a complete failure because they ran it so briefly,” Scott posited.

And reams have been written about how Gap rediscovered its marketing muse when it jettisoned its “For Every Generation” campaign for holiday 2002, replacing it with colorful, upbeat ads that hinted at the colorful sweaters and striped scarfs available at Gap stores.

In other instances, a marketing campaign that strikes a note discordant with a brand’s image may run out of gas unexpectedly. Such was the case with Benetton’s shock ad campaigns of years past, famously photographed by Oliviero Toscani, portraying images including HIV victims, a black horse mounting a white one and a nun kissing a priest, some advertising executives said. (Toscani exited his post as Benetton’s creative director in May 2000.)

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