FOCUS: YOUTH MARKETING - Targeting a love of designer lifestyles In a notoriously fickle market, PR people must use celebrity symbols and imagination to build street cred for brands aimed at the young and trendy. Poppy Brech reports.

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.

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

Admission Reserved).

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.’

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