Logos

Can Ubiquity Make a Brand Invisible?

michael-phelps-rio-olympics-gold-medal-1.jpgDo we even see the Nike logo anymore?

 

The USA Men’s Olympic Swim Team faced not one, but two scandales last week — the lesser-known and more interesting of which is that Michael Phelps, the superstar of Under Armor’s stable of representatives wore sweatpants featuring a very prominent swoosh on the cover of this month’s Sports Illustrated.

But did he even realize he was wearing it?

All members of Team USA are required to wear Nike gear when competing in the Olympics per the USOC, even if it conflicts with an athlete’s personal sponsorship. This is a tricky branding situation for which I can’t think of another analogy — if a celebrity represents a designer label, she usually wears that label to events, but not necessarily in everyday life or in magazine editorials. This spawns its own interesting question: is an athlete obligated to wear his sponsor’s gear in an editorial, if other celebrities are not held to the same standard?

My answer to that question would be no, but in any case, Phelps is decidedly not in Olympic uniform in this photo. His clothes could be his own or chosen for him (unlikely; no self-respecting stylist would put him in that Zuck-ish polo), but regardless, did none of the individuals involved in this photoshoot —the athletes, stylists, photographer, editors, et all — even notice that he was donning a Nike swoosh? I think it was completely invisible to them, even to Phelps himself. This should be a smug moment of triumph for Nike, besting Under Armor, but instead it’s an indication of an issue in Nike’s brand recognition.

Nike is such a behemoth that it’s a synecdoche for all atheleticwear, in the vein of Spandex, Xerox, Kleenex, and, in Texas, Coke, standing in for all of their respective related or competitor’s products. It’s so big, in fact, that our brains barely process the logo anymore, like speed-reading through something you already know. I wouldn’t have even noticed that Phelps was wearing Nike pants in the photo had the fashion industry not started buzzing about it. But is that a good thing or a bad thing for Nike?

I think it’s both. It’s great to be the synecdoche because it’s a guarantee of popularity and quality. But a brand can become too big and lose its meaning  unless it’s kept ultra-current, which Nike is good at doing by offering enormous variety and customization options. But still, the logo can go mentally unprocessed. Who are Nike’s spokespeople? I can’t name a single one besides Michael Jordan in ye olden days. Perhaps more visible advertisement, beyond a small smooth Swoosh on an athlete’s lapel, would lend the brand more concrete meaning to an audience that doesn’t obsessively consume sports. Perhaps they should also consider non-athlete or famous spokespeople to front or even design for the brand, like what Puma has done with Rihanna, or non-traditional athletes, like Misty Copeland for Under Armor. I would love for a celebrity trainer like Mary Helen Bowers to be a spokesperson for Nike, or for Nike to do a black-and-white photoshoot starring an icon like Mikhail Baryshnikov (who, does, I can ah, say from personal experience, wear sneakers in his downtime.)

My next instinct would be to advise Nike to carve out niches within its bigness, like going after the fashion set. Adidas already has the upper hand here, however, with its ultra-popular Stan Smith and its collaborations with Kanye West, Raf Simons, and Stella McCartney. Reebok, too, is collaborating with interesting non-apparel labels like FACE Stockholm to appeal to a young, trendy set.  Nike could continue to expand its fashion collaboration attempts, like the one launched with Ricardo Tischi earlier this year. Carine Roitfeld for Nike has a nice ring to it.

In the short term, to boost its falling stock, Nike could push the Huarache shoe into becoming the next Instagram star, like the white-and-burgundy Nike Free was few years ago. This style is on the precipice of really “happening,” and just needs some more Instagram and editorial coverage.

Nike can combat its logo invisibility with a revamped advertising platform, since it’s not the logo itself, but its ubiquity coupled with a lack of meaningful advertising that causes the brain skip. But really, we don’t have to worry about Nike going anywhere despite interesting and innovative endeavors by its competitors. It already has the cultural resonance (and money) for permanent staying power, as long as it doesn’t get too comfortable on its laurels.

 

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Tremendous Eye Roll: More on Tommy Hilfiger and Celebrity Collaborations

Save Tommy Hilfiger from himself.

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Tommy Hilfiger has announced a design collaboration with Gigi Hadid, a line called Tommy x Gigi, to debut in the fall of 2016.

Cue the largest eye roll physically possible.

Not that this is a terrible idea — it’s not. It’s just bad strategy for Hilfiger in the long run and a case of history repeating itself.

As I discussed in a previous article, Tommy Hilfiger needs to be playing the long game with his brand if he wants it to be an non-laughable, established lifestyle brand again — which, by all the evidence I’ve  seen, is still his goal (luggage, linens, and tablewear are all still for sale on his website, hilariously titled just ‘tommy.com’). His brand collapsed in a cloud of shadenfreude in the early 2000s because of two reasons — it was ultra-trendy, driven totally by logos and random-but-popular celebrity endorsers, and it was publicly owned, which meant it kept churning out insane quantities these truly embarrassing looks long after they were cool too keep shareholders happy. Tommy Hilfiger is now a privately owned company, but Hilfiger needs to guard himself against getting endorsements solely from the hot young stars of the moment, as well as relying too heavily on trendiness.

Which is the problem with Gigi. She is the hottest young thing in both fashion and Instagram culture at the moment, showing up in both ad campaigns and (more and more frequently) gossip columns. She embodies trendiness and mainstream youth culture, the very things Hilfiger should be handling with caution, instead of grabbing with both hands. He’s going to make the same strategic mistake again, and the man can’t help himself.

Hifiger could have made so many other choices of collaborators, ones that would appeal to an older audience with 1) more purchasing power and 2) previous experience with the brand in its pre-hot mess days. These might include Alexa Chung, Leandra Medine, or Solange. He could have still gone for a youthful collaborator, but someone less ubiquitous and bland than Gigi is — someone like Brooklyn Beckham or Tavi Gevinson. He’s a big art collector and could have done something with Jeff Koons, Keith Haring, or Yayoi Kusama (all of whom he collects) to do something more cerebral. But no. The most obvious, popular choice is always Hilfiger’s go-to.

What I would have liked to have seen him do most was to collaborate with another designer for a capsule collection. Gucci just announced a collaboration with Commes des Garçons on a small range of silk scarves — an absolutely brilliant move in line with the Michelesance. Hilfiger should do something similar to this, and specifically partner with a label that can boost his cool factor, like Hood By Air, Public School, or Rodarte.

There are just so many more interesting, smart, and nuanced collaborative options out there for Hilfiger than the model of the moment, and his obstinacy and short sightedness in the matter is off-putting. He doesn’t’ deserve to succeed in this venture, and who knows if he will? Will Gigi be as hot and relevant in a year, when the collection debuts, as she is now? It’s a question Hilfiger should be seriously asking himself. This line may need to move up its timeline.

Label Consolidation and British Stars on Trampolines: This Week In Burberry News

Last week, Burberry announced their decision to roll up all of their lines – Brit, London, and Prorsum – into one label. Henceforth, everything will be known as simply “Burberry.”

This decision follows similar moves other luxury labels have recently made to get rid of their “junior” lines: D&G and Marc by Marc Jacobs have both became defunct in the last year. Burberry’s consolidation is much more akin to Victoria Beckham’s swallowing up the lower-priced Victoria, Victoria Beckham (although London couldn’t exactly be seen as a junior line, pricewise).

Does this make sense from a business perspective? I suppose. To the untrained shopper, the different labels might be confusing. But I think Christopher Bailey ought to have cut out London, and kept Brit and Prorsum as bookending collections – but perhaps this is my own sentimentality talking.

When I was first discovering fashion, Burberry was the brand I deeply identified with, soul-loved. I obsessed over it; the black and white ads covered my walls (and still do in my childhood bedroom); I finally felt like a world understood me and my interests and tastes and aesthetics. I would look at the Brit line on Nordstrom.com and think that one day I might be able to afford a piece. I contented myself with the fragrances (this was a pre-Burberry Cosmetics era – imagine!) and then one day, at sixteen, I garnered the nerve to go into a Burberry store with my mother. There was a black eyelet cotton Brit dress on sale. We bought it. It was an important psychological shift for me – I finally owned a piece of the world I wanted to live in. I was me. And I would go on to make wonderful memories whist wearing that dress, and it’s something I will keep forever. Brit’s differentiation from the other Burberry price points made that possible.

Besides my maudlin affection for the Brit line, Bailey should keep it because it’s so distinctive from the runway collections. Brit is made up of classic pieces, like sweaters and polos, starting at about $300, and usually incorporate the house’s logoistic check pattern. It’s a starter line that’s clearly identifiable as Burberry for those who don’t have the budget to afford the higher-priced London line, or a penchant for a pastel trench coat from the Prorsum collection. Without the identifying nomenclature, I feel like Burberry’s enormous inventory will be difficult to navigate, and perhaps turn away new-to-fashion buyers, who only see thousand-pound dresses and leave, unaware that they can afford something less pricey.

And as for Prorsum – Latin for ‘forward’ – that designated the high-fashion runway collections, well that’s a shame to lose. It’s a word that evokes the Burberry knight, and Burberry’s unique ability to move forward stylistically while still remaining a heritage brand. Not to mention its erudition factor – it also brings to mind a romantic vision of Oxford and Cambridge. Something like this, which, coincidentally, is the aforementioned wall décor:

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I’m sure Bailey has good reason for the roll up – I trust him and his vision for the brand, even though I wish he wouldn’t make this particular move. So who’s next to streamline their label? Kors won’t – yet. There’s too much of a price gap between Michael, Michael Kors and the Michael Kors Collection, and besides, he should want to keep the two separate to placate both the label-toting suburbanites loonies with brand ownership, and the starlets he dresses on the red carpet with a non-embarrassing connotation. Armani won’t yet either. There will always be a Eurotrash market for Armani Exchange on one hand, and a market for sophisticated actors to wear his suits on the red carpet on the other. How are these label stratifications even part of the same brand? They are so antithetical – not at all like Burberry’s or even Marc Jacobs’ lower-priced lines, which simply reflect(ed) the larger brand at a lower price point. I suppose a powerful name can code for a lot of different things to different audiences – but I’m not sure that’s a compliment to Mr. Kors or Mr. Armani.

Burberry also debuted its holiday video advert last week. No luxury label does holiday marketing quite like Burberry, and the label delivered once again, with a star-studded tribute to Billy Elliot, with appearances by Romeo Beckham, Elton John, Julie Walters, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, George Ezra, Naomi Campbell, Michelle Dockery, and James Cordon, just to name a few. That’s what’s so special about Burberry – all of these faces perfectly fit the label. It doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, black or white, 13 (Beckham) or 68 (Sir Elton), Burberry is for everyone. They consistently strike a unique pitch of inclusiveness, while still maintaining luxury, aspirational status. Perhaps that’s the heritage factor, but I’d chalk it up to a special British alchemy.

Tommy Hilfiger and the Case for Reissues

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Last week, Tommy Hilfiger and MyTheresa rolled out a capsule collection of 90s-inspired, logo-heavy reissue pieces. All of the nine pieces available have, smartly, been updated “with innovative fabrications, luxe fabrics and modern silhouettes,” including scuba material and longer-line crop tops and sweaters that look chic. sporty, and, even – yes, shockingly – European.

This is brilliant brand strategy for Hilfiger – for the short term. It comes at the perfect timing, at the peak of 90s nostalgia; and the collaboration with MyTheresa gives it a cool, youthful, and Justin O’Shea-approved feel that it wouldn’t have if it were partnered with say, Net-A-Porter, or god forbid, Hilfiger’s old stable, Macy’s. Suki and Immy Waterhouse front the campaign, which is a good, but random choice, as they are not exactly the postergirls for American sportswear – they are much more at home bloodlessly modeling Burberry and Muberry and the like. The collection’s price point is surprisingly high, with the least expensive item, a bandeau top, coming in at €130, which is certainly too high for the 16-21 year-old Instagram users and Waterhouse fans who would be desperate to get their hands on a bit of the 90s that they, albeit briefly, experienced and are now painfully wistful for.

But nostalgia pieces won’t do in the long-term for Hilfiger and it will tempting for him to ride the 90s-00s throwback train for the next two to three years without planning for his long-term brand strategy – which has in desperate need of redefinition for some time now.

The last few years at Tommy Hilfiger have been a schadenfreude nightmare, full of strained efforts to revitalize the label with a string of mismatched cool, young celebrities and try-hard, themed runway shows. Mr. Hilfiger ought to position himself as the Kate Spade of preppy American staples, and not keep trying and failing to be the zeitgeisty-cool designer he once was. Instead of targeting millennials, he should cater to an older crowd, the men and women who grew up wearing his label in the 90s and 2000s, who are looking for something sportier and more fun than JCrew and Brooks Brothers, and less tragic than Tory Burch. There’s certainly room in the marketplace for this kind of label, and lots of people hoping that Hifiger succeeds – he just needs to stop playing the short game and stop resting on the laurels of his once-popular name.

The reissue model for fashion is brilliant, though, and I’m surprised more designers haven’t seized the ‘heritage’ PR and marketing angle that is so ripe for the picking. It’s also an incredible chance for the average shopper to own a real piece of brand history – not a fast fashion take, a knockoff, or a vintage item in middling to poor condition. Fantastic reissue pieces are what fashion consumers want, but labels must be thoughtful about the pieces they choose to reissue. Few items in classic shapes, like the Mark Cross “Grace” overnight bag (a reissue of the suitcase Grace Kelly carries in Rear Window) and the Max Mara 101801 camel coat are perfect examples of reissues done right, while Topshop’s recent archival rollout achieved only middling success because of the wide range of available pieces, apparent randomness of selection (online voters were the culprit – a nice idea in terms of democracy, but not in terms of profit), and un-updated designs. Other major labels need to get in on the reissue game. I can only begin to fathom the kind of hysterics that might break out in the fashion community if Dior decided to reissue a limited release of 1950s and ‘60s cocktail dresses, or if Saint Laurent released some updated accessories from the iconic “destination” collections. People would lose their minds. Snap to it LVMH and Kering – there’s a rabid market out here for your labels’ classics.