Chanel’s Viral Films (UPDATED)

5 06 2009

Originally posted May 25, 2009

Failure for Social Media?

After articles like this one in Business Week, which claim that social media has no presence in consumer purchasing considerations, I thought I would take another look at Chanel and the company’s recent cinematic commercial initiatives, which have been creating a viral extravaganza for the last couple of years.

I’m with Ruth Mortimer in thinking that luxury brands can use the avenues of digital media to provide vehicles for brand ambassadors and fans to influence consumer spending through viral marketing.

The French powerhouse has created this buzz through their short films, which are actually cinematic commercial spots that were soon followed after by Dior, Prada and others (though with less buzz).

The goal of these cinematic campaigns is to provide the greatest creative and entertainment value, which resonates best with moviegoers- a young, affluent and educated demographic that is highly valued within the advertising community. With the modern in-theater market and new technologies of dispersion, the quality of cinema advertising has soured exponentially. The challenge was to create something worthy of consideration from existing or potential luxury markets.

Stopping short of creating a Facebook page for the brand, Chanel instead focused its efforts on creating brand-worthy commercials told from the perspective of the House of Chanel, which were also considered entertainment-worthy by the fans. Fans (and critiques) took over from there, building hype, passing the video campaigns across the internet and voting, tagging and commenting on what they saw.

The immense budgets of these films shows just where the brand’s money-maker lies: fragrance.

Updating an Old Favorite

Chanel’s first commercial blockbuster was released in 2005, staring Nicole Kidman and directed by her Moulin Rouge visionary, Baz Luhrmann. With a +50 million euro budget, Chanel focused efforts on repositioning their biggest money-maker, Chanel No. 5, for a then-booming US market. (Oh, how the times have changed!)

The brand sought to update the image of No. 5 for the American youth market, who typically viewed this fragrance as a relic from grandma’s dating years. Loaded with strong, opulent and innovative visuals, the “fashionable” director created the ad film as a movie trailer spanning more than 2 minutes. Most modern consumers associated the fragrance with the romantic lifestyle of mid-century France. In an effort to stay relevant and up-to-date, avoiding the classic undertones, the commercial is set in NYC instead of Paris, and all dialogue is in English.

Themes of romance, escapism, adventure, mystique, an example of exquisite haute couture, the use of men’s wear and even a little high/low-class rendezvous is inserted to balance the updated image with the brand history.

Various postings of the commercial short have collectively received more than 2 million views on YouTube alone, with over 1,000 comments.

The perfume continues to be one of the most widely purchased fragrances of all time.

A New Classic

Following the success of the initial campaign, Chanel developed a second cinematic commercial spot, this time to introduce a modern fragrance to capture the essence of the brand for today’s market, without interfering with the positioning of the “Old Classic,” No. 5.

The short film for Chanel’s Coco Mademoiselle fragrance focused on historic references to the brand’s namesake, Coco Chanel, using a modern actress and a timeless Parisian set. Coinciding with the launch of her 2007 movie, Atonement, Keira Knightly starred in the spot as a variation of Coco herself through imagery associated with the codes of the brand: the men’s shirt, the classic hat, the famed mirrors of Chanel’s Paris apartment, the camellias woven into a bracelet; all with a touch of elegance, sophistication and romance.

There is even a focus on mix-and-match, where the actress removes her ankle bracelet and uses it as a necklace (it contains pearls, of course). Silly, yes, but it gets the point across: this fragrance represents the modern ideal of Chanel herself.

Demonstrating less viral activity, the commercial film received fewer than half a million hits on YouTube, but the associated print ads created quite a buzz in the blog world.

Revisiting the Classic

After the success of the 2006 campaign staring Nicole Kidman, Chanel again sought to produce a blockbuster ad that would address the entire international community while building hype for the upcoming release of the biopic “Coco Avant Chanel” (Coco Before Chanel).

The 2009 commercial film features Audrey Tautou, star of Amelie and The Da Vinci Code, and is directed by Amelie’s Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Unlike the Kidman film, the Tautou version includes no dialogue, with the exception of a night train conductor asking for the starlet’s passport in French. The rich sound and visuals tell a story of an independent, young first-class traveler who falls in love with a mysterious man in her neighboring train cabin on their way from the Limoges Bénédictins station in France to Istanbul. The fellow traveler is seduced by the young woman’s scent, No. 5.

This commercial has all the entertainment value of the original Kidman spot, but aside from featuring one solitary pearl, it lacks the traditional codes of the brand. What it achieves is bringing home the message of romance to No. 5 for the international community, featuring today’s most famous young French starlet together with the classic love song, Billie Holiday’s “I’m a Fool to Want You”.

Just released this month, the film already has a combined YouTube hit rate of less than 100,000 and enough pages of comments to show that people are engaged, for better or for worse.

UPDATE:

Apparently, I missed this legal notice on Chanel’s own website, but was shocked to learn from the Business of Fashion site that the following is stated:

“No part of this website may be copied, reproduced, republished, uploaded, posted, transmitted or distributed in any way for commercial purposes. This prohibition also includes framing any content from this site on another site, as well as unauthorized linking…use of material from this site without CHANEL’s prior written consent is strictly prohibited.”

That doesn’t indicate a very clear understanding of viral marketing, does it? Frankly, I was a little surprised that the site did not offer embedding capabilities, although I understand that the brand doesn’t want their “commercial” to appear just anywhere. However, to outwardly restrict the very act that makes these videos so successful is a bit shortsighted, if you ask me!

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The French System for Fashion & Luxury

14 01 2009

French fashion has long been reflective of social and economic hierarchy, illuminating the distinction among classes. Beginning with the Royal Court of the Sun King, France became the capitol of rich fashion. After Charles Worth created the business of haute couture in the 1800s, Paris became the creative center for a business model that has evolved greatly, yet still remains centered around the spirit of haute couture.

Haute couture is identified as unique pieces constructed with precious materials, made-to-measure, and made for special occasions- not daily wear. A dress of this nature today should run you on average between 20,000 and 30,000 euro and up. Where there were once more than 30,000 clients per year for the highest form of French fashion, today there remain less than 3,000, and most of these are irregular clients. Hence, haute couture is not a big business anymore; it is unaffordable and impractical, as there are fewer and fewer occasions in today’s world to wear such items. Therefore, it has become much less profitable than it once was, having lost the link with modern life.

Most companies that made their name in haute couture today sell mostly accessible products and democratic accessories like lipstick, perfumes, and so on. However, to continue to sell these more “basic” goods at high profit margins, they must continue to produce high fashion. People are now buying the legacy of couture, rather than the couture itself. Therefore, to make the big bucks selling goods at the bottom, you must be positioned at the top.

According to French law as of 2008, 50 garments per season must be produced by hand, by at least 20 skilled in-house workers for a fashion company to be considered a house of haute couture. (This model is changing under the current economic situation, in order to protect the existing haute couture legacy; too many couturiers were closing their doors under the weight of these expensive restrictions.) These companies lack a bottom-up business model, and have no second-lines: consider French powerhouses Dior and Chanel, as opposed to Armani, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, etc.

john_galliano_paris_menswear01Brand images and communications demonstrate a high level of arrogance and provocation. Have you ever wondered how or why that “crazy stuff that nobody is ever going to buy” makes it onto the catwalk? The most elaborate and provocative designs are taken onto the runway because the goal is not mass profitability, but to demonstrate creativity and uniqueness. Consider the wild boys Jean Paul Gaultier for Hermes, or John Galliano for Dior (below).

john_galliano_dior_paris_fashion_week

In fact, most clients are unaware of exactly who is the designer behind today’s major labels. Instead, they typically know what celebrities are wearing them (the Poiret legacy lives on!).

To summarize, the French business model is derived from a long tradition of craft and individualism. Couture was the original product of the French fashion and luxury system, which is now integrated with accessories. The image of sophistication and provocation are used to produce the sense of luxury, which is what the companies are selling. Viola!

Here’s my hastily-made visual (with apologies to France):

French luxury business model





Fashion History: From WW1 through WW2

11 01 2009

WW1



As far as fashion in concerned, WW1 produced a strong discontinuity in the way women dressed (of course, the men were wearing uniforms). The increasing employment of women in industrial activities had relaxed strict dress codes, and allowed women to wear cotton trousers for the first time. As women’s roles in Western society changed, modern fashion changed along with it. Paul Poiret’s extravagantly-modelled business failed after WW1 erupted, as a result of his failure to understand the evolutionary landmark of the War and it’s impact on society and fashion. He failed to adapt to meet the modern needs of his clients, thus opening up a market for Coco Chanel.

Easy-to-wear clothing had diffused into mainstream society, and the use of “poor” materials proliferated. (Wool was necessary for uniforms and interwar unemployment created a further need for substitute and recycled materials.) Garbielle Chanel best exemplified the discontinuities in fashion, brought on by WW1. Chanel began work in the major garrison town of Deauville, where she met an officer who provided the capital for her to start her own millinery.

Chanel believed that a woman could be active and still remain elegant. She put this philosophy into her designs, shortening skirts and using jersey in womenswear. Of course, jersey had previously only been used for men’s underwear and sportswear, so this was considered revolutionary at the time. Her dresses stressed the new social role played by women, incorporating simplicity and masculinity.

Chanel was among the first to validate the fashionable qualities of black, exemplified in her little black dress (beginning in the late 1930s). She felt that for daywear and eveningwear alike, that is was unnecessary to dress in a very opulent way.

In terms of a business model, Chanel ran the house and created the designs, but had her vendeuse in the shops for customer assistance. Assemblers were separated into workrooms by the piece of apparel or accessories being constructed, and further by function (weaving, embroidering, etc.). The work was seasonal and the company was completely hierarchical.

Chanel began diversification of her brand through the production of perfumes and jewels. In the 1930s, the constructed pins made from stained glass. Chanel was the first designer to place great importance on bijoux. She maintained one symbol from her past among “doubtful” women- the camellia, trademark flower of high class prostitutes. She turned this symbol into a luxury accessory. Jewelry was an important decorative element upon the simple, clean Chanel dress.

She launched Chanel No. 5 for her 40th birthday in 1921, named so because it was the fifth perfume trial. However, this was developed in the days before licensing. Chanel accepted only 10% of the Parfum Chanel stock without royalty, and was only granted 2% sales royalty in 1947 by Pierre Wertheimer, owner of the manufacturing company. The unique bottle design of Chanel No. 5 was very simple, geometrical and linear, demonstrating the “essential” nature of the fragrance. Furthermore, it carried a simple, easy-to-remember name. Its scent was the first not to use a natural fragrance, but to incorporate an artificial one derived in a chemist’s laboratory.

Chanel used her own name in all matters, on all products and campaigns. With No. 5, she was selling her look and lifestyle, and therefore her branded self. This branded marketing was so effective that Chanel No. 5 remains one of the top-selling perfumes today. (The company estimates that one bottle is sold every 55 seconds.) However, the next time you are at the perfume counter with a friend, try a blind sniff test putting No. 5 up against a more modern fragrance, like Chanel’s Mademoiselle. These days, 99% of the time, No. 5 will not be appreciated unless the person smelling it knows that it is Chanel’s classic fragrance. It’s nothing against the fragrance- it’s just a bit outdated for our modern noses, and a little heavier than what most consumers today are after. Yet it flies off the shelves. That is some serious brand power!

By the second half of the century, Chanel was making more money in accessories and perfume than in apparel itself. Chanel stopped her business during WW2 and immediately after, due to market shortage, supply shortage and her public affair with a Nazi officer. She finally came back in the 1960s with her infamous suit, which was confident and comfortable, and represented a counterplay to the New Look by Christian Dior.