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WWD Milestones: Southpole's Bully Pulpit

Celebs like Ciara and Nick Cannon helped build the brand, but now Southpole is making an anti-bullying message the centerpiece of its marketing.

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A 2009 sponsorship.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

A 2007 billboard.

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Milestones issue 08/22/2011

On a July night in 2007, Southpole chairman David Khym strode out to the mound of Shea Stadium, the former home of the New York Mets, and threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Southpole was the sponsor of the team’s first “hip-hop night” and 12,000 kids at the game were gifted branded T-shirts for the occasion. During that year, an imposing Southpole billboard loomed over the outfield at Shea, as well.

That grand gesture is emblematic of Southpole’s heavy investment in advertising and marketing over the years. Numerous hip-hop, R&B and pop stars have appeared in its advertising campaigns, including Ciara, Nick Cannon, Omarion, B2K, Mario, 3LW and “America’s Next Top Model” winner Jaslene Gonzalez.

Southpole’s celebrity endorsers contributed significantly to its brand awareness and growth, said Kenny Khym, president of Southpole and its parent, Wicked Fashions Inc. However, as the brand’s consumers have become more diverse — and the urban market overall has evolved into a multicultural demographic — Southpole has adjusted its reliance on musicians and actors, taking a different approach to marketing.

“Our consumers today come from every walk of life across America,” said Khym. “There are Southpole fans who not only listen to hip-hop, but also to rock ’n’ roll and other music. We feel that one particular celebrity might not correctly represent what Southpole means today.

“Over the course of our evolution as a brand, we’ve realized that Southpole encompasses much more than hip-hop music. We still focus on music as an essential part of our marketing strategy, as it is an essential factor of American youth, but with greater scope beyond music as well.”

Southpole has reduced its print spending over the past couple of years, as the economy has slowed. The company spent $2.3 million on print in 2009 and $469,000 in 2010, according to Kantar Media figures.

The brand is currently focused on events, promotions and online initiatives, said Jean Luc Rim, director of marketing and licensing. This year, Southpole is sponsoring the World of Dance, a traveling dance competition and exhibition with upcoming dates in San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, London, San Diego, Boston, Chicago and Hawaii.

As part of that sponsorship, Southpole has launched an anti-bullying public service campaign called “Speak up, step up.” Dancers and hosts will call attention to the campaign during World of Dance events, said Rim.

Southpole has also created YouTube videos featuring dancers from the tour. In one spot, dancers named Bones Hill and Havoc explain to two young girls: “Bullying is so played out. So speak up, step up.”

The videos are featured on Southpole’s Facebook page, where viewers can win tickets to World of Dance performances. The campaign will also be highlighted in a radio initiative this fall, with partner stations Hot 97 in New York and Power 106 in Los Angeles.

“We want to stand for greater causes than just fashion, and would like our consumers to participate in them and feel good as well,” said Rim. “As even President Obama has said, bullying is a serious social problem among youth in America. We may not be able to provide a cure or solution to this problem, but want to raise awareness and contribute to seeking the remedy.”

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