Designer brands and PR agencies, keen to tap into the lucrative
youth clothing market, face increased new competition from a wide range
of brands including sportswear labels, outdoor clothing, such as Kangol
or Northface, and skatewear-influenced labels.
According to Levi’s consumer marketing manager Gary Burnand: ’The whole
sector has really heated up in terms of people pushing themselves as
brands rather than particular fashion garments.’
Within this context, defining what is an aspirational brand can be
Daniel Marks, account director for Gianni Versace at Aurelia PR,
believes a designer brand is one where the power of association with a
particular image or recognised face is very strong.
For Robert Phillips, managing director of Jackie Cooper PR, the ultimate
success for a designer brand comes when the label is bigger than the
individual products. ’It’s where people stop thinking about the product
and the label becomes the motivator to buy,’ he says.
There is a general consensus that celebrities and musicians are
important influencers in this market. It is therefore no surprise that
marketing managers actively seek celebrity endorsement or music
sponsorship deals to boost a brand’s credibility.
Farah trousers, a Jackie Cooper client, owes much of its renewed
popularity to personalities, such as Denise Van Outen, who have been
seen wearing them. While Phillips admits that Farah supplies products to
celebrities, he insists that they are not paid to wear them.
Celebrity association as a major selling point is supported by the
latest findings of the youth market tracking study ROAR (Right of
ROAR asked its panel of respondents to provide an image description of
various brands and then relate them to an appropriate 1990s icon. Brands
including Diesel, Nike, adidas, Levi’s and Kangol were cited as cool and
streetwise ’Liam brands’, after Liam Gallagher of Oasis.
In a sector not noted for brand loyalty, identifying and tracking
factors which influence buying decisions is the key to maintaining
competitive edge. Agencies and marketing managers agree research should
be carried out either by visiting bars and clubs or more formally
through market research and focus groups.
Music is also an important route into the market. Levi’s involvement in
music includes sponsorship of Vapour, an independent dance label project
run in conjunction with The Face and regional media. The project will
tour the UK, changing the line-up at different venues to feature music
from local dance labels. While Vapour represents considerable
investment, Levi’s is careful to avoid heavy branding.
When it comes to talking to youth consumers on their own terms, PR can
be a more credible medium than advertising. Wayne Hemingway, creative
director and founder of Red or Dead, deliberately avoids
With Red Rooster, Red or Dead uses PR to reinforce its position as a
non-elitist designer street fashion brand. In certain campaigns, the
company has used its shop windows to tie in with films.
’When Pulp Fiction came out we had a ’Massage Saturday’, where people
dressed up as John Travolta and Samuel L Jackson and massaged feet in
the window,’ says Hemingway. ’We said we know our target market is going
to be interested in that film, let’s have some fun with it.’
While ROAR figures show that the nation’s youth spends an average pounds
52 on clothes per month, brands also must target parents while
maintaining their appeal with kids. Phillips believes companies have to
adopt a dual strategy and should bear in mind the fact that parents have
a younger mindset than ever before.
The outlook for clothing brands is, if anything, tougher in the
Hemingway believes the days when the fashion industry dictated trends,
are gone. ’In the past when the fashion industry said that leggings were
the bait of Satan then leggings were the bait of Satan. Nowadays people
make their own choices. You’ve got to work with the market rather than
preach to it.’
STATUS SYMBOLS: Trainers rely on sporting excellence
Hi-tech trainers have become the footwear of choice for 1990s youth.
PR within this market tends to rely on identification and association
with top sports stars.
Nike, adidas and Puma all emphasise their dialogue with top athletes who
test trainers, in order to continually modify and improve design and
Celebrity sponsorship plays a key role in most manufacturer’s marketing
and PR strategy. Nike sponsors athletes such NBA star Michael Jordan and
footballer Ronaldo. ’They are athletes who are top of their field and
who combine flair with passion for the game - values which Nike strongly
supports,’ says Nike in-house PR spokesperson Debbie Cox.
Stars, such as boxer Prince Naseem, have proved important to maintaining
the aspirational appeal of adidas. According to adidas PR manager Steve
Martin: ’We want ’symbols’ who can speak for the brand and who have an
appeal both on and off the field of play.’
All manufacturers share a common desire to tap into what is cool at
street level. With help from Cohn and Wolfe, Reebok, for example, has
used the advertorial route to target youth titles. ’We were able to link
Reebok with skateboarding and break-dancing before people realised they
were back in fashion,’ says account director Graham Fleet.
Nike used youth specialist FFI to generate PR at street level to
introduce their new range of Air Terra footwear. FFI created the Nike
Terra Breakout - three urban running events held in London, Glasgow and
Manchester which aimed at recreating the running experience, over slate,
hills and mud.
Latest data from ROAR confirms that trainers feature frequently on the
youth shopping list. Alex Vlasto of the Twelve Consultancy, which
provides PR support for ROAR, warns however: ’Top brands must sustain
their well targeted PR and marketing strategies to retain market share
among a youth generation which ROAR has identified to be instantly
turned off by inappropriate advertising or sponsorship.’