Techno Luxury & The “Reality Check” on Branded Social Media

29 11 2009

While I did get to check out the whopping 10 minutes of this week’s Milan Global Fashion Summit that was dedicated to technology, I was really bummed out not to be able to to to the International Herald Tribune’s Techno Luxury conference held in Berlin last week (the Twitter archive can be found here). It was really a trilogy of disappointments, because the conference encompassed 3 of my favorites: the Luxury+Technology factor (which is a given- being surrounded by fellow geeks and listening to Suzy Menkes and other experts talking about my favorite subject for 2 days is like having died and gone to Heaven); the involvement of my favorite Women’s Wear Daily editor, Melissa Drier, who also happens to have significantly influenced the direction of my career; and Berlin, a city I love for many reasons, including the fact that it so brilliantly embraces its history while barreling into the future.

So I’m both green with envy and thrilled to read the tidbits of info that are coming out of this conference, and am desperately waiting for more details (and video feed, anyone?!).

On Monday, Ms Drier posted an article on the conference in WWD, but for those of you without access, I’ll include some highlights here:

Seen as both an opportunity and a threat, technology is now an unavoidable factor to be reckoned with in the luxury market. And whether it’s virtual retailing, social networking or any manner of digital or cyberspace advance, luxury brands no longer have the option of sidestepping technology.

Amen to that! Of course, the day after this piece was written, many of the traditional industry titans were gathered in Milan to ask themselves the fleeting question of whether the internet has a place in luxury. Let’s hope they were all in Berlin last week, and that‘s why the topic barely made a blip on the Milanese radar.

Mirroring my experience with industry leaders here in Italy, both through work and my experience back in business school when I interviewed dozens of CEOs and Marketing Managers of brands ranging from fashion to fine wine and motorcycles to understand their insight into the future of the luxury market, in the WWD article, Suzy Menkes had the following to say:

“The luxury market hasn’t embraced early enough or completely enough the opportunities of new technology,” IHT fashion editor Suzy Menkes told WWD shortly before the conference kicked off. This year’s technology focus was spurred, in part, by her experience of chief executive officers’ discomfort when queried about a company’s online activities. “All I’d get is a grimace, compared to the tremendous enthusiasm to how they embrace a new store,” she said.

I am very familiar with that grimace, but I personally think that a lot of the problem has to do with the fact that a great deal of the luxury-industry managers aren’t familiar with how the web can help them. With all due respect to Mme. Menkes, I believe it’s actually the luxury industry and not the luxury market – the customers are already there – which has failed to fully embrace the opportunities of new technology. Industry leaders don’t seem to view the internet as an ideal place to build a branded environment, tell your story, build a community and engage in cutting-edge customer service, but rather a murky danger-zone.

In an industry where simply knowing your way around Excel is considered a form of wizardry, it’s hardly surprising that the industry leaders might be intimidated by a technology they don’t understand, both online and off. There is definitely one industry leader out there who gets it- Burberry’s Christopher Bailey is revolutionizing the brand through technology in both marketing and internal processes, building a great digital brand presence with the added benefit of a sustainable impact.

“Technology shouldn’t be scary,” stated Burberry chief creative officer Christopher Bailey. Together with CEO Angela Ahrendts, Bailey has powered Burberry into the virtual and digital forefront both online and in-house via the use of blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Burberry TV, its own social networking site, consumer e-brochures, digital look books, digital and e-commerce links to fashion shows, digital design tools, global videoconferencing, motion sensor lights, a monitor and iPod on every desk, Wi-Fi, Skype, a digital photo studio that can get images online in two hours and so on…

And the payback? Connectivity with ateliers and offices has reduced company air travel by 17 percent, digital look books have saved 32 tons of paper, online sales are growing rapidly and Burberry’s broad online presence provides the brand “with a much broader insight into the consumer and you can build more of a story,” Bailey said.

Sustainability, high ROI and social media brilliance… (I’m in love.)

And, speaking of consumer-insight and the building of the brand story, Ms Dryer goes on to introduce FASHIONAIR, a new multimedia fashion social network/e-commerce aggregator (still in the Beta phase) which seems to have the capability of dominating the online fashion forum through brand representation and creating a killer environment where consumers want to hang out. I’m so excited about this project, but it’s going to require a separate entry (most of which I just wrote and erased for the sake of “brevity”).

Back to the Techno Luxury conference… among the attendees were some of the most prominent fashion bloggers, in addition to the editor of The Business of Fashion and founder of the Luxury Society, Imran Amed. I was just reading this article from The Business of Fashion blog about the recent frenzy of staged social media activity surrounding Fashion Week, which was apparently discussed last week at the conference. I say staged because many brands today are eager to appear “on-trend” with our virtual lifestyles, without realizing that 1) it’s not a trend, and 2) you can’t always “fake it til ya make it” and consider yourself a leader.

While the article is definitely worth a full read and a spot in your Evernote files, I thought these two points were especially on-point:

It’s not enough to be seen to embrace social media. Brands and retailers must also build real long-term symbiotic relationships with bloggers, not short-term exploitative ones. Excellent examples of this are Lane Crawford, who from the start have supported and worked with Tommy Ton on their ad campaigns, and Burberry and DKNY who hired Mr. Schuman for his photography skills to appear on their website and in their advertisements, respectively.

Finally, consider the point made by Yuli Ziv, a New York-based fashion blogger who said to brands last week: “If you are looking for sales, make sure to provide [bloggers] the detailed product info, pricing and availability, if  SEO optimization is your top goal – make sure you use the right keywords in your pitch, if publicity buzz is what makes you satisfied – give them juicy stories, and if you simply want love – give them the reasons to love you.” It’s as simple as that.

Without beating a dead horse, it’s critical for brands to incorporate digital outreach into their full strategy, and not just dabble in social media in some back office. Yet for many brand leaders, there just isn’t an understanding of technical capabilities, much less of implementation and execution, and without an acceptance that the future is now (how cliché is that?!), they are going to keep throwing money into one-time-only buzz campaigns with no depth or continuity.

PR Diagram

As anyone who’s skilled in PR will tell you, the goal of a communications investment today is not to create an event that only provides a short burst of attention, but to create something that can grow and spread on its own. Even if it’s a PR event, there should be a build-up and then an follow-through which can maintain buzz over a period of time far longer than the initial event. Web marketing is the same… and I’m struggling to think of a better medium in history that could ever provide such long-term attention after an event, especially when considering digital video and other multimedia and social content.

This is important… and as one of those “digital natives,” I couldn’t have said it better myself:

I regularly hear reports of major online fashion properties who “can’t find the budgets” to hire young digital natives to help them amp up their online content. This is pennywise, pound foolish, especially as these young talents can be hired for a fraction of the cost of major photo shoot or big-time editor.  –Imran Amed

Finally, what strikes me as perhaps the most insightful part of this analysis is a comment left by Allistair Allen of AnOther Magazine. Put simply:

Hire more Geeks.

Thanks, Allistair.

Reading Material:

Defining Moments: Blog Around the Clock | WWD

From Couture to Conversation | NYT

Once Wary of the Web, Luxury Brands Embrace It | NYT

Luxury Brands and the Case for $4,000 Sunglasses | NYT

My Techno: A Designer Viewpoint | NYT

Nick Knight: Techno King | NYT

Gritty Glamor in Berlin | NYT

You can follow the International Herald Tribune Twitter archive of the Techno Luxury conference here.

References & Reading Material from Jefferson Hack’s Presentation:

Fashion Film on Dazed Digital:
——————————
Lady Gaga Exclusive: http://dazeddigital.com/features/LadyGaga.htm
Swarovski State of Grace: http://www.dazeddigital.com/projects/astateofgrace/Default.aspx
Westwood: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/846/1/Backstage_With_Vivienne_Westwood
Alexander Mcqueen A/W 09: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/2656/1/Alexander_McQueen_AW09
Tim Richardson – Transition : http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/1742/1/Rotation
Armani: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/651/1/AX_and_Dazed_present_a_film_by_Matt_Irwin
Carolotta Managio – Mutate: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/2349/1/Mutate
DKNY Turns 20: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/1687/1/DKNY_Turns_20
Martin Margiela: http://www.dazeddigital.com/Fashion/article/2367/1/Instant_Instinct

Authors:
——–
William Gibson : http://www.williamgibsonbooks.com/
Marshall Mcluhan: http://www.marshallmcluhan.com/

Social Media
————
Charles Leadbeater: http://www.charlesleadbeater.net/home.aspx
Mashable: http://mashable.com/author/barb-dybwad/

Augmented Reality:
——————
Total Immersion:  http://www.t-immersion.com/
Layar: http://layar.com/layers/
Bruce Sterling: http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/

Interactive Design:
——————-
Uxbooth Blog: http://www.uxbooth.com/blog/the-future-of-interface-design/
This Happened:  http://www.thishappened.org/talks/

Future Publishing
—————–
Apple Tablet: http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2009/09/apple-tablet-everything
Sony Flexible Full Color Paper Screen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6bkmPjVF-k&NR=1&feature=fvwp
E-Paper
: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq_2LiTxhls

Presentation Formats:
———————
Neil Perkins Presentation from IPA Social October 09: http://www.slideshare.net/The_IPA/neil-perkins-presentation-from-ipa-social-oct-09

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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!





Fashion History: From the Belle Epoque through WW1

11 01 2009

Orientalism

An intense fascination for the Orient was the largest influence on stylistic change at the turn of the century. The Ballets Russes was first performed in Paris in 1909, and quickly became a blockbuster sensation across Europe. Dancers performed oriental tales, dressed in brightly colored costumes of unprecedented combination. The designs, like that to the left, were originally created by Leon Bakst. It was the first time that a theater event had any major impact on the way we dress.

Consider how great the impact of celebrities -actors, sports stars, musicians, etc.- is on fashion now!

While Charles Worth was catering to upper-class women, Jacques Doucet (1853-1929) was designing stage sets and dressing actresses. Young designer Paul Poiret (1879-1944) worked for Doucet in this regard, until he gave away a design model to a young actress, who had the pattern realized by another designer. (This is one of the first of MANY cases questioning the copyright of a fashion design.) He then went on to work at the House of Worth.

Worth’s legacy had been 19th century dress. After his death in 1895, his two sons were unsure of how to move his style forward (this is the first case of a fashion house having to carry on without their namesake). Poiret presented them with a new style, which was rejected as low-class by Worth’s heirs (if you think this sounds like Marc Jacobs’ 1992 grunge collection for Perry Ellis, which got him fired while rocketing him to superstar status, you are catching on… history does repeat itself). Poiret then went out on his own. He was a marketing genius and focused on window displays, adding shock value by giving them a theatrical stage quality to get attention.

The Poiret dress had no crinoline, no corset and was more tubular than S-shaped, with a higher waistline. However, the corset did not completely disappear; Poiret’s dresses still needed undergarment support, though not as tight. The fabrics were in brighter, happier colors than Worth’s sober patterns.

Aside from helping to free women from the corset and crinoline, Poiret’s greatest contribution to the fashion world was his attention to the means of communication and diffusion for his creations. As fashion magazines were often too sober for his colors, Poiret started a cooperation with young artists, Paul Iribe (right) and Geirges Lepape, to draw his dresses. Again, we are seeing here another first example: this time of an in-house marketing team.

Poiret went further to create a symbol (trademark) of his maison: the rose. This would not only serve as his logo, but the pattern would be incorporated into many of his designs, such as the famous Joséphine dress (1907), named for the Empress Joséphine.

He generally paid more attention to the overall effect than to the fine details of dress construction, and threw a huge party to sell something more than a dress, but rather, a dream. The Féte de la Mille et Deuxiéme Nuit was the name of Poiret’s 1910 traveling party, in which he toured his models throughout Europe. The traveling party was Persian-themed with authentic props, decoration, musicians and so on. Guests came in Persian costume, creating a buzz and word of mouth marketing for the house, which led to mass attention from the press and the world. This was followed by a US tour in 1913.

Poiret was also the first to extend his brand beyond fashion, into perfumes, cosmetics and furnishings (brand extension). As many ground-breaking brand strategies as Poiret introduced into the fashion industry, he could very well be considered the godfather of modern fashion branding.

For a great article on Poiret, check out this article at style.com: Fashioning the Century.